Sunday, February 3, 2008

Killing time~

I'd woken feeling stuffy headed, slightly allergy-ish, puffy-eyed, and a tad grumpy. Lots to do, little time in which to do it, school issues keeping me in a state of angst, I considered not going to David's game.

But it was Saturday, the game fairly close to home-- Salem State College-- an hour or so north through Boston to the town of Salem, famous for the 1692 witch trials that saw 19 suspected witches, many of them social outcasts, hang on Gallows Hill.

A change of pace was what I needed whether I wanted it or not, so I went.

I squeezed in a walk around the block that enclosed Salem State's O'Keefe Center while waiting for the game to begin. Just to kill time. I get so few chances to do that.

Others walking, too, passed with no eye contact, no greetings, just sharing the same planet. Two were coming toward me.

Still unfocused in the distance . . . one was tall, the other short . . . two men . . . loose clothing . . . like army clothes, camouflage . . . beard and long hair on the tall one . . . the short one, she's a woman . . . pack on the man's back . . .

When they were close enough for me to see the sores around the woman's mouth, she looked me in the eye and said, "Hello, Mam."

"Hi, How are you?" I said brightly, my autopilot response.

"Surviving. You?" she said as she passed.

The pack was a sleeping bag . . . the baggy clothes were layered over others . . . they were homeless . . . social outcasts . . . killing time . . . until the shelter opened.

In that heartbeat of realization, I struggled to answer her simple question. How was I? Great! Fine. Wonderful, thanks.

What came out of my mouth was, "Better . . . probably."

"Better . . .?" That word came unbidden. My subconscious attempt to convey that no matter how I was, I was in a better place than "surviving."

"Probably?" I don't know. That was lame-- a last minute gearshift in an attempt prevent understanding: not better than you, but better than how you are.


Maybe she didn't hear me anyway. Maybe the wind took my words.

We were people killing time for different reasons, sharing the planet.
As if you could kill time without injuring eternity” ~Henry David Thoreau


rain said...

You are so great with describing a moment in time. "Better" can mean so many things..better than I was yesterday...better than an hour ago, better than you...and no matter what it means, I still think a human answer is..well...human...

Carter said...

This is the second piece on the homeless you've posted
recently. You notice them. Somehow, they matter.

In Boston, they're on all the big streets--sitting outside
the CVS, saying, "When you come out, could you give
me something?" Or pushing along the sidewalk their
grocery carts, some piled high with enough stuff to
furnish a small room. Or standing in the middle of
traffic down by Mass. Ave. and the long on ramp to
I-93. Those I want to yell at--I don't want to run over
them, I'm too busy trying to keep control over the car
to stop and search my pockets.

I wonder about them. I've known a few, a little--I used
to serve Sunday dinner at Long Island shelter for a
church group. Some are just down on their luck--lost a
job, but they'll get another and survive. Some are
disabled someway, often not by a mental trouble you
can name, but somehow things just never work out for
them. Some are people who ought to be under
care somewhere--they are out of it, incapable of taking
care of themselves. And then there are the drunks; I
suppose they can't help themselves, either--they're
addicts, quite possibly for genetic reasons. I always
wonder. I wish I could do something, but I can't.
Society could, if we cared. But too many people think
the Free Market takes care of everything.

You care.


Ruth D~ said...

Rain~ Thanks, and so are you, with a nice touch of humor I might add.

Carter~ If I had written down all the thoughts and questions that went through my mind as I watched the game . . . I couldn't wrap my head around them all. "There but for the grace of God, go I?" No, it just isn't that simple. I'm pondering. . . . there will most likely be more on this.

I'd be curious to know what you think of the governor's plans to build residences for the homeless. I'm mixed on it and not because of the cost. It's kind of an oxymoronic philosophy, but that's for another post. :>)

Carter said...

I hadn't heard about the governor's plan to house the homeless--too caught up in no telling what.

But offhand it sounds like curing the symptom without dealing with the causes, which are many. I suspect part of his reasoning is that what we used to call "insane asylums" are no longer available and the much more PC "commnity care" doesn't work. I need to read about this, and will.

Ruth D~ said...

Carter~ My thoughts exactly. And more that's hard to put into words yet.

sc morgan said...

Hi Ruth.

Well, I think you can trace this back to Johnson's Great Society and the failure of the following Republican administration implementing the supposed community centers meant to "take up the slack." It is a travesty in human kindness (perhaps that's an oxymoron). I have met all manner of these people in the ER and many of them are, as Carter says, mentally ill, some of them are disabled in some way and their benefits don't take them where they need to go, and some of them are hustlers who see the life as "free."

The storage unit in Oregon where I keep the few "things" I still own sees quite a few of these people. They rent the smallest unit available- $36 a month--and they sleep there during the day and move out onto the streets for the night. They tell me they prefer the streets to the shelters--I'm sure Ross could tell you why. It is a sad state of affairs but I'm not sure that America has a corner on the market.

Ruth D~ said...

Sarah~ I think the issue of homelessness is broader than partisan politics and perceived policy failures. You might remember that I have a son who verges on homelessness, has in fact been homeless, has mental health issues, all the factors Carter mentions. He wouldn't stay in any "community center" if you paid him.

leslie said...

I so glad you came by, Ruth. I had lost your website somehow and was this week going to go back through my own blog to find you. Hope the school year has been okay for you. And glad that your walk made you feel "better." Or was it seeing those two people?

I'm so tired tonight (see my blog for why) but will come back tomorrow and try to catch up a bit on your posts. Not long now until retirement! :D

Wanda said...

Ruth this is the most excellent post. You gift with words go so far beyond the eyes that read them or the ears that hear them. They go straight to the soul!
LOL :) Wanda

Barry said...

Ruth, I have subscribed so that I'm notified when you put up another of these things. You move me.

What a contrast. First this came in my box:

and then your homeless piece. We are so hungry for hope. We so need something better. You articulate it well.


Dave said...

Killing time for different reasons.... A short post with a very thought provoking theme. Really made me think.

Thanks for getting me thinking. :-)

Barbara said...

I'm convinced that a whole lot of people are simply in survival mode these days. The line between the "haves" and the "have nots" is becoming more pronounced.

Ruth D~ said...

Thank you Leslie and Wanda.

Barry~ Can't promise I'll always move you, but, it's nice to know my words can do that on occasion. We are hungry for hope, but I want it grounded in something substantive, not just emotion. And I'm not implying anything about any of the candidates . . . just saying. :>)

Dave~ You're welcome. I think you think plenty as is.

Barbara~With not so many "have just enoughs," the middle class, it seems.

Dave said...

Wonderful post. It stirred inside me and made me ponder the homeless and the rest of us wandering.

Ross said...

Hi Ruth:

I had planned to respond to your earlier entry on the homeless, having some experience of it myself.

In my case, it was mental illness, and I was painfully sober through it all! I wonder if some of the drinking (don't know of many drug-addicted homeless who only medicated themselves with drugs) is just to dull the physical pai. Sure, there's mental pain, but try sleeping on the ground, or scrunching in a doorway out of the rain! It HURTS!

There are some homeless here in my home town, I suppose, but I've not seen but one fellow ... and he might just be a little eccentric. In the nearest larger town there is a Salvation Army Shelter, but I've not been near it when it might be open (nights).

But ... there really ARE ordinary, healthy people who fall on hard times and simply wake one morning, sober, and have to walk out of where they'd lived "Great! Fine. Wonderful, thanks." lives into the street. I don't know how they cope.

There's something comforting in being crazy. Something to blame things on, and probably quite rightly so.

The Great Depression cannot happen again? Why not? We are billions more, the earth is in dodgier shape, we are more violent in society.

Saw a wonderful (if controversial) film last week called THE SECOND COMING. The Son of God, this time around, says these words at the very moment he starts his ministry: "Look what you lot have done to the world! Heaven is empty and Hell is full!"

What did I do to the air? To the soil? To the rainforests? How did I contribute to overpopulation somewhere? How did I help supply arms to warring factions all over the world? (Americans ... you paid your taxes to do THAT ... not all of that "foreign aid" goes on books and baby food.) How did I contribute to divisiveness in "religious matters"?

Well, I'm guilty on all those counts too.

But I AM crazy!


Ruth D~ said...

Ross~ What's that song? "It's so nice to be insane. No one asks me to explain." :>)

I'm always glad to have you share your wisdom, however hard earned, delivered with clear-eyed honesty.

Lisa said...

It sounds like you really connected with that woman, Ruth.
What a wonderful post, and the comments here are really touching as well.

Ross said...

Ruth ... I don't know that song! And it sounds as if I should.

But the first sentence "It's so Nice to be insane!" would make a great advertising slogan for strange trips to the south of France.

The south of France, where the over-housed go to get away from it all!

Watched an excellent documentary on BBC-2 last night about a young man (29) who never knew his father, shortly after being born his mother got into drugs, became a heroin addict, overdosed. The boy was passed around, was noticed by someone, another young person, who was visiting the depressed estate on which the boy was living, who got talking, took him home. Told his parents (wealthy upper middle-class) that the boy was in dire straits. Well, the wealthy family took him in, adopted him (!) and he went to boarding school and had all the perks that money can bring. He learned to speak with the rather posh accent that few of us here manage.

And when he was about 20 he started acting oddly. Would dry wet clothes by putting them in the oven ... started fires that way. Poor memory. Strange choices. Anxiety. Reversion to childish behavior at times. He went and lived on the streets of London. His adoptive family did their best to get him medical assistance and eventually got him into psychiatric care and "held" there, where he stabilised to some extent, at least was willing to stay there and be monitored.

But ... the System said he had to move on to at least a shared accomodation, or be committed to a "ward" for the rest of his life. A brilliant young man! Odd as a clockwork orange, of course! The documentary saw him into an open hospital, and he would be encouraged to try shared living ... in London. His (now elderly) adoptive father is picking up most of the costs.

Okay ... I didn't tell you that the boy is mixed race ... or that his adoptive family were white. Might also mention that the boy, as a youngster, and at age 29, is stunningly good-looking. And that he spends most of his time dancing, by himself. Not to music only he hears "in his head" ... but to one of those MP3 or iPOD devices.

WHAT does Society do with a lad like that? Clearly (it seems to me) we could all benefit from him. I have an unpleasant sister who freaks at anything that is not boring and concrete. But if I see someone dancing in the park ... Well, why not?

Okay, must go and think about the south of France!