Seattle has a homeless problem. When I first saw homeless people sleeping on the street at night in the cold weather, I couldn’t hold back my deep, intense emotions. I had to find a corner and let myself cry and cry and cry….
I didn’t understand how humans could let other humans suffer like that. Starving people, children without limbs in war zones, people jumping off bridges to their death…. It was all too much for this fragile, hyper emotional, sensitive girl.
Social injustice was upsetting for me too. Classism, ableism, ageism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia… legal murders and crimes of the rich and powerful, carcinogens in our food and water…. People said the world is waking up and things will get better…. But then social issues get worse. How was I going to survive in this awful place?
Eventually, I began to realize these tales of injustice are all stories in the mind. Fictional realities we’re all making up…. Really? Allow me to explain.
Systematic oppression is clear enough to the person who’s awake. What we call normal behavior is racist, sexist, homophobic… behavior and we’re all infected with it by virtue of being a member of this planet. It’s how we’re conditioned to think and act from birth, so we aren’t inclined to question it or even recognize it. Thankfully, brave persons are bringing normalized oppression more and more to our awareness, even with immense pressure to stay silent.
At the same time, have you ever noticed the difference in qualities of persons who have suffered? Sometimes their suffering leads to an early demise. But if it doesn’t kill them, these are the brilliant ones who are actually changing the world. They’re the true artists, the true poets, the real music artists…. Generally, they’re the people who can sing, dance, tell good jokes, break sports records, challenge the status quo, be a spokesperson for the voiceless, or just carry a genuinely interesting conversation…. They’re true humans. They’re people with an actual culture, and actual personality, with the strength and intelligence to survive against all odds. Somehow they also know how to really celebrate and enjoy life….
Generally speaking, these are the people who truly stand out. The people we really respect. We might even be inclined to say that a person’s oppression, disabilities, or disadvantages may have served to bring out a higher intelligence, more keen awareness, more creative adaptability, more compassion for others…. So then we have to ask, who really has the advantages here? Who really has the power? Things are not always as they appear.
One day years ago, I was feeling especially tired and lonely. I went for a hike to the river on a secluded trail. As I walked out of the woods to a clearing by the water, I found myself in the middle of a small group of homeless people with tents, sitting around a campfire. I felt startled and scared and I didn’t know what to do.
They kindly said hello and offered me a seat at their campfire. They also offered me cigarettes, beer, and peanuts – what little they had. I politely declined but we started talking about the weather, the river… then I sat down and joined their little party. We talked, laughed, and cried together for a few hours. I listened to the amazing stories of all they had been through – adventures I could only imagine. They also asked me about my life without prying, and seemed honestly interested, even though it was rather boring in comparison. It was a beautiful day and one of my most memorable life experiences. These people had something valuable that most of us are clearly missing, even if it’s only a true sense of community. They had learned to stick together and support each other for their survival.
I stopped worrying about homeless people after that. I’m grateful for humanitarian efforts from those with that gift and life calling. But the idea that anyone needs a valiant savior is just another story we tell ourselves. People who presume to help others often need more help themselves. We all have unique problems, traits, and values. We all have our own life experiences and tale to tell.