I am community.
I drank it in: this little town by the sea with the summer sun shining and a peaceful wake adding to the dream like scene – the serenity wrapping around me like a warm quilt and the air rippling with quiet sounds of birds and waves. It was ideal.
In the shadows under the blooming flowers on the new green grass sat a wee bit of a frame, wrapped in layers of dirty and worn winter clothing, sporting one glove and a hat wildly tilted to one side. There she was – M.*
Her mind of course would not remember me but I knew her from our many chats; this homeless person who dug through garbage to find food for the birds and picked bottles for cash. Her belongings stuffed in one cart – treasures to her.
I always gain a deep insight into life when I visit with those of no fixed address. This ladies heart was in the wee chickadees she fed bread and the pigeons that waited at her feet for seed treats she bought at the local dollar store. M did not care for seagulls for they were too human in her eyes with their selfish manners and loud voices. However she told me she witnessed a miracle just the day before when one seagull fed an injured other. Isn’t that something – she whispered.
Had she been inside at all through the weather? I asked. No, she replied, there is too much housework inside. I laughed – how true. Then she started her story of this past winter – the rent that went up 70% without notice, the landlord locking her out of the tub because she was too dirty to wash and the lock on the door to the washer and dryer. “I cannot even clean my body” she lamented.
She didn’t need money for she saved every cent which spurred social services to urge her to give it away to the community. Silence followed and she then replied: “I am community!” Because she was homeless there was a perpetuated belief that she did not deserve to have a bank account, save money or have a business. Because she was homeless she was vulnerable to corrupt landlords, cheating friends and exclusion from intelligent conversations.
There is nothing less about M but because she is homeless she is seen as different than you and I. She is still a woman, worried about her haircut and concerned for the little ones who pass her by. She is very intelligent but the prolonged cold and lack of care has aged her – eroding her teeth and wrinkling her skin. She is tired and stooped over.
I asked her if there is a fear she has of being in a house or home – did someone harm her there? No, but she came a refugee alone and her life work is to send money back to her country of origin. To do that she said, I made a choice to deprive myself so I could help my people. What may have started as living in the park for the summer became natural and she just simply never went back to home.
Her vulnerability is profound and it is clear she is often taken advantage of. She told me the story of men drinking on the pier one evening and her finding a dead pigeon in the garbage the next morning. I shuttered. Just like the pigeon in the garbage, who would notice if she was wronged or not in her spot the next day?
However we choose to look at life we must at all times wait to hear the story and remember that women like M are extraordinarily courageous and kind. They mean no harm – they just have made different choices. M is a valuable person in our community – she is a thread in the fabric. And though she may not choose to be inside, the days that she does she deserves to be treated respectfully and with dignity. How she would have loved a warm bath on a winter day – but someone else held power over her and she was refused this basic human right.
When I think of the exclusion of our seniors and those with mobility or mental challenges, it hurts me to think that society has not appreciated the gifts that these wonderful persons bring to our lives. They are community. And it is community on which the foundation of society is built and imprinted for future generations. Without this we only have a framework without context and no hope of connecting or understanding in a deep and meaningful way.
As our conversation came to a close she smiled and said: “Just imagine, someday you and I will be in a place, where we will all be safe and there will be nothing that harms or separates us, a community of caring”. “That” she said “is worth waiting for.”
I urge you now – do not wait. We can lead change by our actions and weave communities with colorful threads inclusive of all persons – even those that avoid home – because there is too much housework waiting there!
Brenda Lee Schoepp
All Rights Reserved
*Initial changed to preserve dignity