Rich beyond Poverty

How poor are you?  Kaze

 

Rainer Maria Rilke “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.”

“Life s…ks here. There is nothing to do. I am bored,” proclaims a young man. I look at the other faces of the Jr. High kids around the table. They all nod. Life is tough in a small town. Sometimes it seems we will all shrivel up and dissolve into dust.

One of our leadership team young adults( Ralph)  drops into one of the chairs. I tell him what we have been talking about. He thinks for a bit. Everyone waits for him to speak. Finally, he says, “I still live here and I have a rich life. I’ve been a lot of places now and have met so many people. I guess for about two years I could hardly wait to get home and then I would be bored in about ten minutes and wanted to leave again. I’m not sure how I changed but I know it was inside. It seemed like I knew so much that was just in me. And people started looking at me with respect. Like I was somebody. I’ve been somewhere. I’ve done a lot of things. I just started to look differently at things and people. I used to think that whatever I did, I would eventually fail. Nothing good was ever going to happen to me. And then a lot of good things did. People asked me to help them in church. Others told me that I could come live with them and they would help me with a job. And some people are really interested in my dreams of the future. I think that finally I got it that it was up to me to make my life interesting. That’s when I changed. It is totally up to me to meet people, and try new things and find new places to visit. It’s up to me.”

“What can we do?” asks one of the young ones.

We talk about that and several good suggestions are made. Then Eric says, “You remember when you put that picture on Facebook of the forest. It was all green and the words say something like “This is a family too.” That really got to me. I’ve got so many relatives and not just the ones in this area. Everything in the world, even the trees make me bigger.”

With that image and those words, we ended the meeting. Somehow it seems right that an image evoked by pictures or words can do more than advice.

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More than Survival

More than Survival by Kaze

Carlos and I are talking about living paycheck to paycheck, or in my case, social security deposit to social security deposit. He says, “If you lose your social security, will you become homeless?”

That is a good question. I am very careful about saving some money every month for emergencies to avoid being unable to pay my rent.

The Gold Rush days and other stories on pioneers have influenced me.  What drove them to reshape their working and home environments to do more than survive? I re-read A Pioneer Love Story by Priscilla H. Wilson and Giants In The Earth by Ole Edvart Rolaag because I am fascinated by how much people in the old days wrote letters, long letters about what happened to them and how they faced terrible uncertainty. I am fascinated by how they coped with the unknown. Some made it and some did not. They had something deep in themselves that let them live in a profoundly changing river and did not allow “fate” to overwhelm them.

As I hear stories of how much our economy is changing and how that informs those in higher education (longer working hours in college, fewer jobs, and bigger debts) I wonder how the fabric of education and the nature of jobs will change. Some already know they will not get the job they want or any job at all.
I wonder about those on the margin of influential society. I meet more and more people who worked hard and had a home and are no longer able to fit into our existing norms. More and more homeless people are not those addicted or mentally ill but those who are desperately looking for a way back to a money economy that gives them the basics.
Being poor these days, I think, is worse than heading out to the unknown in a covered wagon. There is no frontier to go to get away from poverty.
“I’ve always worked,” says a middle age Latino in clean well used clothes. “It’s like once you are homeless, people don’t want to believe that you want back in to a house and regular food. And they don’t think it can happen to them.”He smiles shyly and pats me on the shoulder.
They are surviving on a barter economy now and as they slowly reenter the work force, their view on what is important may change American society. Let us all work on that change.

 

Elevator

Elevator Abuse

As I was racing to catch an elevator in my apartment, a Latino family leaves their apartment at the same time.  A beautiful little girl about three years old, runs ahead of her family. She points to the elevator and says “What is that?”

I tell her it is an elevator and she needs to wait for her mommy. She runs back to her Mother down the hall.

I get in and a middle age white woman says, “I’m glad you stopped her. I would have kicked her if she had gotten in. I hate those people.”

Stunned, I just stared at her, unable to speak. She got off at the next floor and strode away. The doors closed on me before I could get my voice back. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I still don’t know how I should have reacted. Someone telling me they would kick a child because she is Latina still fills me with sadness and anger.

I have been reflecting all day on this.

Racism hides a vulnerability in all of us. When we are afraid of being judged, we often point fingers at others. “It’s not my fault,” is the cry of children. When we grow up, there is a great temptation to hate those who are different because we are afraid we are also different.

I see this all the time when I sit with the homeless either on the streets or in the park. People drive by yelling racist insults for those of color and general insults, like ‘loser” or “faggot.”

 Charlie looks at me when some of those cars drove past. “Some people are just mean and use our being different as an excuse. They even insult the wheelchair.”

Others, who heard his comment nodded. Larry said, “It has gotten worse. It used to be safer to be homeless. Now, I don’t know. I feel everyone could turn to violence now.”

I think about that a lot. It does seem that we are in times when it is okay to verbally abuse those who are different. Maybe it has always been this way and I am just more sensitive to it but I think it has gotten worse.

What can we do? We have many opportunities to be bullies and bigots with little effort. I am working on how I can allow the wonder and rightness of others to saturate my thinking and action. And how I can be justice without being unloving.

 

Sing a Song

Favorite Song

David and Lisa had stopped by our table to say hello and get some socks. Then they went back to their blanket on the ground to sit.

In a few moments, David comes back to talk.  “ I don’t want anything. You just seem friendly.”

We exchange names and hometowns. Finding out that he is from California, I mention that I took a group of Native youth to Los Angeles every year to the beach and to Skid Row.

He jumps in his seat. “I know skid row. Do you know……  This started a list of places we knew, like the Midnight Mission.

“We went to Karaoke night there.” I exclaimed, jumping a little in my seat. “The street people there had beautiful voices.”

From there we went to beaches. I couldn’t remember the name of the one we went to most so I tried to describe it.  “It has a big park on top of the hill where we used to hand out sandwiches. It was a wonderful place to sleep, under the trees. And the pier had a Ferris Wheel.”

So David started naming all the beaches in L.A.  Finally, he says, “I’m going to get Lisa. She will want to hear this. You know, I met Lisa 11 years ago, and I have been pushing her wheel chair for the last ten when she lost the use of her legs. We sleep here in the park.”

He brings back Lisa to our table and we share places we have known.  “You mean Santa Monica Beach, don’t you?’
“Yes, “ I shout. “That is it. How could I have forgotten that?”

By this time, other homeless people start gathering around to see these excited people talk.

Lisa says, “You went to the Karaoke night. What was your favorite song?”

That stumped me. I could not remember a single song.

She says, “When I was a child, my mom used to put me on the kitchen table and sing to her friends. My favorite song was “The Sidewalks of New York.” She starts singing and we all clap.

A memory pops in my head.  “As a child, “ I say, “April Showers was my favorite song.” And I sang some lines.

By this time, others were chiming in on songs they liked, or what their mothers and grandmothers used to make them perform.

It was a joyous time.

As I reflect on this, I felt like this was a family reunion. We all had so much in common in terms of memorable events.

And, I don’t every remember anyone asking me such a question. Usually, I get “How are you doing,” or something generic. “What is your favorite song” is a reflective question, leading to something deeper.

I can’t help it. This counts as a highlight of my homeless visits. And I treasure my friendship with David and Lisa.

Last Day

My Last Day  by Kaze

     There are only a few people with whom I can talk about dying–something that we all do but do not always face.

Native people, the homeless community, and a few friends are the ones to whom I can turn to face walking in the Spirit World with peace.

     I wonder about my last day. Will I die in dignity or drooling at the mouth? Will I die with time to make my peace with everyone or from a car accident? Will I be ready or will I be protesting?

     I know. None of these questions really matter. The only thing that I can do is to be ready now to die if I must, to make my peace now, to finish up anything that can cause hurt. I find myself calling old friends just to hear their voice and know that I have at least made contact if I die unexpectedly. I make myself ready now by walking in beauty and living in mercy.

     A homeless man I see on the streets often sits down at our park bench. I ask him how things are going. He smiles with one serviceable tooth in his mouth and says “Everything is okay. Are things okay with you?”

     I think that I can die at peace knowing that someone has taken the time to ask how I am, especially one who is at risk from exposure, ill health and possible malnutrition. 

     How little we give credit for intelligence and compassion in those who live on the streets.

     I am so blessed in my friends.

Unexpected Mercy by Kaze

Unexpected Mercy

     Watching two men who have been sleeping at the homeless park, I experience the dubious emotion of pity.

     Then, my heart softens. A comfortable glow settles throughout my body as I change the emotion to gratefulness. They are alive. They are in a community of homeless people who survive. They are held in Being as they are.

     This is called mercy. Good things happen to them unexpectedly. Their circumstances are tough, yet they laugh and cry and help each other.

     I don’t know why they have been shown mercy. I don’t get the mechanics of it at all. But I know that when my heart softens, I experience mercy. When it happens, I see others as being kin, as being like me, with or without homes. I see mercy spreading over them like the warmest blanket.

    Okay, these are all metaphors. I have no other way to talk about my heart turning from blah to generous. But I can recognize the change.

     Thank you, all you Holy Names of God.

     /

Feeling Special

You are Special

     As I greeted street people who sleep at and around the train station, a homeless man I did not recognize says to me “Hi, there. My, you are looking beautiful today. God bless.” And he walks away.

    Feeling warm down to my toes, I just grin and say “God bless you too.”.

     I dress down most days I am on the streets and I sometimes feel just blah.

     So, today I feel so blessed to be with those who live on the edge of survival and yet can deliver a word of affirmation.

     It feels right to be loved.