“And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think
A little too ironic… and yeah I really do think…” -Alanis Morissette
Life is ironic, isn’t it?
On April 19, Andrew Lopez, a recent college graduate, was waiting for a bus in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia after eating dinner at a friend’s home. What happened next is becoming increasingly common in inner cities plagued with violence. He was approached by three teenage boys between the estimated ages of 14-16. One of the teens asked Lopez if he knew the time. He told them the time and was then was struck very forcefully in the face.
The punch hit Lopez with such force that he staggered into the street and collapsed on the ground. He lay in the street holding his face. Cars drove around him. No one stopped. One of the attackers actually helped him up before they slowly retracted from the scene. He thinks the teens intended to rob him, but were caught off guard by his “full-blown response” to the punch.
Wondering where the irony is in this situation? Andrew’s father is Steve Lopez, the author of the book and inspiration for the movie, The Soloist. The plot is based on the Los Angeles Times journalist’s real life experience befriending a Julliard-trained, mentally-ill homeless man and helping him get back on his feet. So as dad Lopez was preparing for the Hollywood premiere of his movie about helping strangers, son
Lopez was randomly attacked by strangers.
Despite the fact that he sustained multiple facial fractures and significant head trauma that required surgery, Andrew Lopez isn’t bitter about his attack or even “remotely” angry at his attackers. He sent me the following statement he had written for Philadelphia Daily News reporter Dave Davies:
It is very important for me to communicate not just that I am not angry at the kids who assaulted me, but that I think I understand what is happening here, and that I am on their side if sides have to be taken. So, my response to the kids that assaulted me is one of understanding. I want to play a part in fostering collective understanding. I guess that’s why I’m not remotely angry at the kids that destroyed my face, because I think I understand what’s happening. Until people are treated as more important in America than corporate profit, perhaps what I am saying will seem strange.
Lopez is more upset with what happened after his attack. Although he graduated more than a year earlier with a master’s in library science, he has had no luck finding a job. Currently unemployed and buried in debt, Lopez has no health insurance.
“I don’t have health insurance because I am in debt, unemployed, and cannot possibly afford it, not even some cheap version,”Lopez said. “I don’t have any money. I have not been bailed out.”
The first hospital that Lopez went to after his attack, Chestnut Hill Hospital, couldn’t offer the care he needed and referred him to Temple University Hospital. After diagnosing him, they learned he was uninsured and refused to treat him. Finally, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania agreed to perform the surgery he needed.
He now has over $50,000 in medical bills to repay. Lopez is an advocate of a single payer universal healthcare system. He says, “I wish there was something in place for all the millions of Americans who are in the same exact situation that I am in,” noting that even people who have insurance often find themselves under-insured while mounting medical bills pile up.
Lopez also ran into challenges with the police department. His report was taken before he had been diagnosed, which resulted in his case being mislabeled as a simple assault. The severity of his injuries (revealed by a CAT scan), should have caused his case to be labeled an aggravated assault, which would make him eligible for Assault Victims Compensation. Lopez said he has repeatedly placed calls to the Victims Compensation officer to no avail.
“Generally speaking, the police have clearly been unconcerned with or unmoved by my case,” Lopez said. “At best, we could say that my repeated efforts at communicating with them have been hectic and discouraging.”
Despite his frustrations, Lopez hasn’t lost faith in humanity. Elizabeth Dow, president of Leadership Philadelphia, a non-profit dedicated to mobilizing the talent of the private sector to work on behalf of the community, wanted to help make sure of that. She has never met Andrew or his father Steve, but was so deeply moved by the painful irony of the attack that she sent out an e-mail to the Leadership Philadelphia alumni list, about 2,000 people, asking them to reach out to Andrew with good wishes and prayers. Dow also sent Lopez’s resume to several people who run academic libraries to try to help find him a job.
“I teach leadership. One of the most powerful lessons that we teach is to Pay It Forward, meaning to reach out and help people in need without expecting anything in return,” Dow said. “I was driven to reach out to help this stranger as a way of redirecting this kind father’s wave of goodwill back toward his son.”
Lopez said the response from Dow’s call to action was overwhelming. He received over 125 e-mails and many letters in the mail as well. Lopez is staying focused on his search for a job. He is a Phi Beta Kappa Temple University graduate with an MLS from McGill University. Currently he is making some spending money as a freelance indexer of scholarly books, but his real aspiration is to be a librarian.
Even though Lopez’s outstanding academic performances have earned him honors and scholarships, and despite the fact that he has more than four years of experience working in libraries, and has multiple publications to his name, he says he has had “absolutely zero luck finding a job.”
Lopez is also still recovering from his injuries. He cannot eat normally and some of his teeth and patches of his face are numb due to nerve damage from the attack. He also has to be very careful about touching or washing the left side of his face.
In addition to his physical recovery, Lopez is doing his best to avoid succumbing to a fear of people. He understandably gets a little nervous in the area where the assault took place, but says he still loves that neighborhood and is working to overcome that fear.
Lopez feels it is wrong to focus on the attack itself and thinks the real attention should go to the system that created the conditions in the environment for the attack to occur in the first place. He is also bothered by the fact that his relationship with his attackers is non-existent.
“I just don’t know how this is ever going to be resolved and it’s really frustrating,” Lopez said. “My relationship with them, people like me, everyone’s relationship with everyone else. What these kids and me, maybe Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, maybe that’s the catch with this story is that these people from different universes actually can have a friendship.”
Promoters of Restorative Justice say that forgiveness and reconciliation can be powerful forces for healing in both the victim and attackers in situations such as this, but that power is diluted when there is no opportunity for connection and relationship.
As Dow puts it, seeing a movie or reading a book like The Soloist is not just a spectator sport.
“The deep message of service and compassion is mobilizing if you are paying attention,” Dow said. “In a larger sense, the truth of the matter is that we are all connected, and you never know where help is coming from.”