So I was walking in the park the other day after a light rain – and I had an agenda; I wanted to walk my delightful park circuit and then I had things to do. I got to the part of Mt. Tabor Park where there is a little amphitheater and some benches and there was a guy arranging various objects (I didn’t stop to look closely what they were) on a bench and I nodded hello to him and he said (though I didn’t ask), “Just arranging my possessions. Man, it’s tough to be houseless in the rain.”
I didn’t feel like talking. It was my walk in the park, my special time. I didn’t want to be bothered by anyone. I didn’t want to hear his story or offer him a few minutes of company, though it did cross my mind to hand him a dollar. But I didn’t even do that.
I muttered something like, “It must have been really hard last week.” Last week was when Portland had the most hazardous air of any major city in the world, including Beijing.
He said, “Oh last week was hell.”
But I didn’t want to hear the story.
I have noticed that homeless people are often very lonely and will grasp desperately at opportunities for conversation. So sometimes I talk to them, but not always. They can go on and on, in my experience. They must be so lonely, especially some of these single men. I can’t imagine.
But I kept walking as per my agenda and it felt cold of me. It was wrong, I think. The universe had placed this needy soul in my path, and all he really wanted from me was some recognition and communion in the moment, but I felt I couldn’t spare it.
So that brings me to the new Higher Thought question, which is: What can you spare?
Or, a similar question, in a more general sense: What are you willing to sacrifice?
Because those of us who live in material comfort – in warm safe weatherproof housing with plumbing and electricity and other miracles – will be called upon to make sacrifices of one sort or another if civilization is to survive.
This report from the New York Times provides a pretty good overview of our situation:
During the week of poisonous Portland air, I hosted two friends for a few nights. Their own house wasn’t sealed well; they needed to sleep elsewhere to escape the toxicity. I called them my “climate refugees” which I thought was cute.
It won’t be cute for much longer, and it never was cute really. There are refugees of all sorts among us. Very few of them are as well-resourced and socially graceful as my houseguests.
It all puts me in mind of a poem by Julia Vinograd, who was known for decades as the “bubble lady” of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, CA. She used to walk along the sidewalks blowing bubbles and selling her little poetry chapbooks. She was widely recognized as an eccentric Berkeley character.
She was also a visionary poet.
by Julia Vinograd
20 on a block and by the time
you get to the end of the block
your innocence is gone.
You’re a horrible miser
who lets people starve in front of you;
you’re guilty of the hawking cough
and the plastic bag raincoat
and the broken shopping cart
packed with all that’s left.
It isn’t much and it’s getting wet
and it’s your fault it’s raining too.
If you looked in a mirror
it would break with disgust,
you couldn’t spare a quarter?
You were just walking down the street
minding your own business,
maybe thinking about someone you just met
and the light on their hair
and wondering if they liked you as much
when all of a sudden there’s this empty hand
in your path
and you’re a mass murderer and there’s no excuse.
You can buy spare parts of your self-respect
back from the spare changers
but the motor’s broken for good.
You can call the garage and get them
to tow your conscience away, it doesn’t work anymore.
Nothing works anymore.
And you want your innocence back.
You have a right to the self you were
before you walked down the block,
you spent a whole life working at it,
And the homeless want their homes back,
they have a right to the selves they were before,
Whole lives broken.
Whole lives blaming.
One block.Julia Vinograd
That poem appears in a collection Julia published in 1989. Still relevant as hell. Maybe more so.
I wonder what it would be like to play Higher Thought with homeless people. Maybe some of them would enjoy a game, or enjoy owning one.
It could be something to do while you’re sitting on the sidewalk, right?
The game does bring you into the moment, and it leads right into that type of connection that so many homeless people I meet seem to crave.
I’ll have to experiment with this idea a little.