Monday, October 19, 2009
A Light in the Darkness
I came across a line, a sentence fragment really, last night in a book I am reading... The Freshour Cylinders by Speer Morgan... about a lawyer, murder, ancient Indian artifacts, political scandal in the 1930s. This quote comes immediately after a description of life on "the lower avenue" with its "dim bars and slouched forms" and poor souls hanging around "the charity hotel." These are "people whose lives couldn't bear too much thinking about."
Far too often, I am that far removed from the workings of the world and its population, of people who live without what most of us call the necessities, of the issues that plague so many. I am here in my small, cozy, comfortable home out in the woods, painting, beading, writing songs, rarely immersing myself in the problems of "civilization." I suppose that is why I feel compelled to sing with the lonely, older folks in the local hospital, why I hold their hands and ask them how they're feeling. I suppose that is why I do adult literacy tutoring. I suppose it is part of the joy I feel when I go to the Special Olympics events of my daughter. I suppose that is why I spent my birthday singing at a fundraiser to support homeless families trying to transition to independence and self-sufficiency.
But still... I am removed.
Yesterday I happened to go up to the barn where my husband was working on knives. Our son had called and I brought the phone up there so he could discuss a VW problem with John. The radio was on, tuned to NPR, and it was talk talk talk. My husband took the phone outside for better reception and I stayed inside with the dog who'd accompanied me there, squatting by the warm woodstove in the corner. And in the silence, I heard the radio... focusing on the homeless and a homeless coalition in California and the discussion of whether the laws governing hate crimes should include the homeless. An interview was taking place with a man who had been homeless for two years, following a psychotic episode where, I suppose, he just couldn't deal with reality... a situation that happens far too often where the help that is needed just isn't found. This man described being asleep in some out of the way or under the bridge setting and being awakened with an aluminum baseball bat. He described the beating, broken bones, cracked jaw, swollen eyes and face and all... and his tormentors... young white males having what they considered a good time. I cringed, wondered how in the world people can do this to others, how can these young men live with themselves, wondering what my own sons would have done had they, in their younger years, knew of acquaintances or school mates who took pleasure in this sort of thing. I hoped I knew.
And then the talk went to some videos that a person can see on youtube and that can be seen in this homeless coalition office in CA. One showed two homeless people being paid to fight each other... being tied up somehow with duct tape and slamming each other into walls and such. I thought about how much I detest the idea of cockfights and dogfights, of how disgusted I am with people who make money and take pleasure and make bets on this type of practice with animals. And I thought how low someone must be to make bets on homeless people. I was overwhelmed with sadness and didn't think I could hear any more of this show. And then a man told about a video of a homeless man pulling out his own teeth with pliers... being paid to do this and being videotaped by someone. My stomach churned, my heart ached, I felt dizzy with it all... I quickly left the barn, telling my husband outside that I can't hear any more about this human misery.
I am happy to not hear these things. I am quite content to not see these videos. I can't imagine watching them. It isn't that I don't want to know, because I do know. I know these things happen. I may not know the details, and I surely do not want the visual stimulation of them.
But unfortunately these thoughts stayed with me, and then I read that description and those words in the book last night. And I know that "the poor will always be with us" - they have been and always will be. And human nature being what it is, there will always be people making money and having such ugly "fun" at the expense of others, there will always be suffering and sadness and loneliness.
But there will always be goodness too, and generosity, and love. And that is why we must do what we can, each of us, however we can, as often as we can, to make some small impression of kindness and loveliness and light on the lives of those around us, not just family and friends but strangers too, the homeless, the orphans, the old ones, the widows, the lonely, the friendless. It is the only way to combat such hatred and ugliness and fear.