I talk about myself because those are the stories I know something about. It is a truth that even though we think we have knowledge of what others are going through, we really have only an interpretation. As I do understand this, I decided to figure out how it might be that I could support some of the street people in my neighborhood. All that I can surmise from what I see is that these of my people have a very difficult time of it. And they do have a handle on what it takes. What do they know that we do not?
In the beginning, say about summer of 2017, I simply went my way. Even though I was living in a charity shelter with a bed and meals, in order to really keep my health together, I shopped the area for organic food supplies. That meant taking the power chair out and around the streets. Homeless people were milling around everywhere I went and were clustered around the blocks near Main and Hastings. My heart went crazy: how can people ignore this or worse, cop a lot of attitude about these of our people just because their shirts need a wash and they need a place to get high safely?
So: what did I do? As I rolled around doing my daily chores, I gleaned in my neighborhood picking up pieces of decent clothing: shirts, jackets, pants lying dirty, wet and abandoned around and about. I brought the stuff to my laundry, subjecting it all to hot water and soap, dry and fold: and then, returned to those in need. It is a perk: clean and dry shirts, a jacket, mended jeans with buttons sewed on! Wonderful.
There were a small few who became more than acquaintances; people I saw every day, people deeply engaged in their life. The clean clothes were received with gratitude. I brought real food: vegetables and good meat to nourish them. One Indian man who is only a little younger than my son in his mid 50\s. is an amazingly prolific artist putting his culture onto scrap board, canvases brought by friends, as well as whatever found materials come his way. The paintings are displayed leaning on his stuff sitting on the sidewalk and they seem to disappear hopefully for more than just a little coin. His painting is graphic, emotional and fine. He deserves to be supported: a simple decent home to live with his people to help him not only with the day to day stuff but with making sure that there are people who acknowledge his art.
Instead he is an icon of virtue, a man of peace, a true warrior for his nation demonstrating dignity and honor for all of us who care to notice. Our friendship heals our nations. Us white folk might check out how much we really need this.
He copes with the facts: police chase him (and all homeless people) around the streets: his camp is unruly, it is a pile of canvases, paints, equipment, tools, cooking utensils, scrap, odd wheels, bike parts, clothing, umbrellas and tarps. He squats and moves around a lot. The single take-away: he is resilient, when it’s heavy going he goes deeper; when it’s easier, he dances and laughs. He uses a Coleman single burner to turn a skillet full of pasta and veggies into a meal for the small band of cohorts who hang out with him. I steer myself around the neighborhood to locate his camp and put a hug on him along with some fun and banter and kindness. We feed each other soul food!
I remind him to remind the cops when they are hustling him off that this is his land and they are the ones who might be put out of the way. Inevitably, they do not hear a word above the directive of their superiors who pay their cheques.
This is the kind of article that does have to have some kind of enlightenment, some message for the deeper, spiritual presence we all of us are. What can I say? My solutions are not solutions; they are nice gestures that really change very little. Where all this goes is anyone’s guess.
But there is this to consider: I already know that between my age, my infirmities and my lack of temporal power, my gestures are small and personal. I do not have larger solutions to offer even if my heart and mind suggest them. This is what I know for sure: The Love within us can and does go around and come around. The Indians and I all know that even these very small things are healing our great nations. We can become even more kind and compassionate. Along with a clean shirt, that’s a perk!
And just maybe some of this will rub off on the hearts and minds (how about, raise the sights?) of those who are the movers and shakers in positions to make real contributions to their nation: let us have universal housing and a decent life that our artists, our gifted ones, our young ones, ones who work heroically everyday to make a life for themselves and their families, and our older wiser ones. Let us give something to our people that can make a lasting peace for all of us. Who knows now what can be for the whole planet when there is a universal peace? How well, how happy, how creative might we be? How beautiful our beloved planet?