After the day up Hastings westerly couple blocks, the population from the swap meet now congregates on the block of Hastings that is just below my windows between Carrall and Columbia. There are easily a hundred people hanging out down there; they come in clusters like the candy snacks after a needle takes effect. They will be here all week long while the swap inhabits that small vacant space on our block.
Of course, all their stuff is there as well. At the swap, tables are supplied, here we see the blankets on the pavement and people swaying and dickering and smoking and jawing, mingling around altogether doing their neighborhood.
I don’t really know much about what is going on there; all I see is the view from 8th floor overhead and so, I have a view from a bridge over a chasm that is many more feet distant than from here to the pavement. I watch but I cannot really know much about what they are up to.
The biggest pitfall, I’m thinking, is that somehow we value ourselves more because we can witness from aloft, so to speak, aloft that is surely the way in which we live in our society. There is a built in assumption that somehow the fact that I am above it all in my cozy, small but quite luxurious, newly built studio apartment, I must be more acceptable, more valuable than those pitifuls without a home, without a clean shirt, on welfare and hungry.
I am grateful to identify the chasm because I can at 80, know that I will not be thrown away for more money. Imagine, folks, how much certainty and confidence I grew for myself. That surely is something to be thankful for.
I see these others of my people below my windows: their fate is that they were thrown away quite some time ago and their confidence has been shattered. They are on their own. I am aware of that feeling having come upon a similar fate quite some time ago. The difference then was that I had somewhere to go in a somewhat simpler world, and there was space in myself and I had a useful trade to create my living. I am a seamstress; makers of clothing have a place. In those other days, I bought ordinary cotton muslin and made popular hippy shirts that were scarce enough from manufacturers that my business equalled as many shirts as I could make. I improved my trade, along with my confidence and the certainty that Icould make it.
What was I learning? I learned to respect myself. I also discovered that I am good enough at my trade to present a saleable product. I learned to understand my worth in such a way that my time and my talent are not for sale for some other one’s profit. It was a act of taking back my power that I learned even more clearly a little later when women began to liberate themselves from a few centuries of patriarchy and chauvinism. It does seem that these people who are like me and not like me, have no other where to go, and nothing to fall back on.
But what are they learning? I must acknowledge that I do not know and with that, I must curb any kind of assumptions and whatever else that gets in the way of authentic human exchange. I learn now to recognize my fellow humans as not so different than myself, dealing with pressures and circumstances that I cannot understand that keeps them stuck on the street with blankets on the pavement laid out with salvaged or purloined goods.
I tool around, folks, the old hippy grandmother who can and does talk to everyone. We are, after all, from the same Source, and we are all one people. Acceptance can help us grow up a little better. Tolerance can help us to recognize what in our own lives are perks and advantages. Compassion helps us to give what we can and also to hold firmly what we cannot.