Friday, February 5, 2016

Mere Mortals: Mouths to Feed.

So I don't come out of the gates with some reading that makes zero sense to you, you can gather the context of this series of posts here. If you already know where I'm going with this, read on...

Track Two: Mouths to Feed.

Will you look me in the eye? Will you call me by name? As the winter is closing in my pace adjusts against the wind, racing toward the setting sun, my past I can't outrun. It's hard to watch you live in love. If only you knew my loss, could learn of loss. I once found pleasure in the smell of fire, broke bread with old friends who'd always inspire, sat long and contemplated desire, but I've made my bed. I chased my demons into the darkness only to find a home in hell. Will you look me in the eye? Will you call me by name? Will you see the me I used to be? Youth is wasted on the young. If only I could go back to that moment and hold my tongue. Catch the butterfly long enough to breathe its beauty, then crush its wings. Then perhaps you wouldn't have to feel anything. Just a smile and a nod without pity's encroach. Please feel nothing, for I am not of this world, I am this world.

In the few years after the housing crash of 2008, NPR was chock full of heartstring-plucking stories that regularly focused on what might be characterized as "regular people" who in one fell swoop lost everything and wound up becoming the previously unthinkable: homeless. Hard working middle-classers were losing their jobs left and right and consequently losing their homes too. These stories put a scent in the air, so thick it was almost visible, that reminded us "regular folk with stable jobs" to give thanks for what we had. I'd hear customers regularly say things like: "hey, just be thankful you have a job," or "you've got some job security here, people will always have to buy food!" There was a palpable sense of fear and it was hard not to succumb to it. Creative endeavors for many of us were trumped by clinging to our steady paychecks and workplace provided healthcare plans. Too many had lost too much for us to take these for granted. For the first time the lines were blurred, any one of us could wind up homeless. 

I've never known hard times. I'm lucky that way I guess. But I do know the struggle of not knowing what to say or how to actually help those who are chronically in need. It is paralyzing at times. My good will over-ridden by my fear of being a sucker. I imagine most well-intentioned benefiters of luck have experienced at one time or another a situation where they thought there was a real chance they were helping someone, only to see the same person the following week, saying the same lines, with zero recollection they gave you that very line barely a week ago. 

Last week while driving we passed someone holding a sign that said: "Shelters full, any help appreciated." I looked at my wife and just asked, "how CAN we help?" Social media has done a pretty good job at providing information of where you can refer someone who needs shelter for the night. I even screen-capped the info on my phone, in case. But when the help that is instituted isn't enough, what do we do then? I wondered if our couch would be helpful. I wondered if giving more coats or blankets would be helpful. I thought about Eugene again and his relationship with my father. I thought about Julia. I tried to imagine what either of them might say if given the chance. 

This song is an attempt at empathy. It's about trying to wrap my head around the chain of events that can lead to and perpetuate homelessness. It's an attempt at trying to see individuals. It's an attempt at letting go of the experiences that have hardened my heart to those in need. It's about opening the discussion about how I or We CAN actually help. It's about trying to become a better steward of humanity. 

(Timothy Schmalz's "Homeless Jesus" photo stolen from this article.)

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