Cagle Terrace is a place of quiet, sometimes not so quiet, desperation.
It is an old 6 story building in Knoxville. At one time they tell me it was a nursing home long ago. Now it is part of Knoxville subsidized housing. It is for old people, for people with disabilities, for people down on their luck, for people who have never had any luck.
Many people who come here have no one else. They are alone and have come to die. Many come off the streets. Some come from psychiatric hospitals. Some have come from jail. They are poor, very poor and many know hunger on a daily basis. Many have some type of chronic illness. A lot are in wheel chairs and there are more amputees here than I have seen anywhere in my entire life.
I live at Cagle Terrace.
Everything here is concrete – the floors, the walls, the ceilings. There are two elevators here but one or the other is constantly breaking down. Weekends for some reason always seem to be the most likely time. I don’t know why. A couple of Sunday nights ago both went down and I sat in a lobby of people in wheel chairs wondering when they would be able to go home.
The fire department, ambulances, the police…. someone is here almost every day. Alarms go off daily. Most people just ignore them. I asked a firefighter one time what would happen if the building really did catch fire. There are stairwells but no ramps and people with wheelchairs on every floor. He looked at me and shook his head, “I pray we never find out.”
We have some bad people here but the vast majority of the people here are just hurt. The stories of their lives are not for the faint of heart. A lady down the hall had been homeless for years. One night some men cornered her in an alleyway and after they raped her they tried to set her on fire. She is still not sure how she survived. She is quiet lady and friendly. She makes you believe in courage.
I don’t even know that hers is the worst story. They tell you if you haven’t seen your neighbors in a while to make sure and tell the office. A guy across the hall from me died a couple months ago. He had no friends. I don’t think most people even knew his name. Finally because of the smell they forced their way into his apartment. They thought he had probably had a heart attack in his bathtub and been dead about a week.
Small kindnesses mean a lot here. Knowing somebodies name. Saying hello. Little things are big things to people who have no things. Second Harvest food bank comes once a month and for some that is all the food they have. I know one lady who stands at the front door of local businesses asking people for money. She gets screamed at a lot but she is starving.
There are a lot of veterans here. People who once went to war and now fight a different war. I remember one night talking to a man about his time in Vietnam. He had left a long time ago. I don’t think it had ever left him.
I have been here for 7-8 months now and don’t see any near time moves. My car is broken down. I don’t think it is fixable and if it is I don’t know where the money is coming from. I walk a lot and ride the bus a lot. Watching a car drive down the road today I was astonished at how long ago that already seems.
I talked to a guy the other night who had been here awhile. He told me what he had learned. “Things are what they are. You do the best you can and never apologize for whatever that may be. Be grateful for small things or you miss a lot. And no matter how bad you feel, no matter how dark things look it is okay to be kind to others when the chance comes your way. ”
There are a lot of unseen and unheard people in this world. There are a lot of people unseen even in the biggest crowds. Take some time to hug the people in your life and tell them thank-you and the next time you drive by the Cagle Terrace in your town perhaps look that way and if you have time even a small prayer. It would be a good thing to do.