I ran through the parking lot of the local Catholic church this morning. I don't usually do this, but I was making a beeline for the garbage can behind the building. When I rounded the corner I glanced unknowingly under the overhang behind the back door, where two people lay sleeping. There is a story behind this, to which I know no details. I only know that it was a shock for me to see how easily these people, sleeping out doors, could hide in plain sight.
When I was in my twenties I lived in my car. Maxed out on student loans, beholden to landlords that leased buildings on the university calendar rather than the actual calendar I was left each summer to fend for myself. I couchsurfed in the strangest places: from the homes of professors to the odd night on a party house couch. I worked on farms so that I could sleep in a tent on the land. I stored all of my worldy possessions in the basement of the daycare I worked at. I didn't have a landing pad when I was starting out and it still evokes a deep sense of anxiety for me to think about that period of time when I was unmoored.
The image I took in this morning becomes other things besides what it is, as I digest it - not knowing the story that the two young people, lying huddled in a mass of camp bedding, with a single knap sack beside them would tell - I started thinking about what the image - static in my mind- brought forward. I see my own reflection; the years I spent without basic resources, and the constant possibilty for any of us, or for any of our children, that we could be stripped of our material comforts.
I started thinking about the possibilty that this small moment could be a harbinger of things to come. Will small towns like mine grow their populations of indigents as our social tectonics continue to shift? I look at the statistics: unemployment nudging 10%, foreclosure numbers continuing to increase, social safety nets becoming more and more porous as we vie for "job creators" and demonize the people that shifting economics leave most vulnerable. We are in a sinking boat, and many people are doing whatever they can to get into the few lifeboats that we have, leaving many more adrift under the eaves of our churches.
Seeing the pair of human beings sleeping on the pavement this morning, seeking a desperate sort of shelter snapped me into an awareness of our collective moment that I was probably trying not to notice. It is not comfortable to confront the responibility that we have for one another. When I told Mark about the couple, he immediately grew cautious of some ambition he imagined of me: that I would want to invite these folks into our home. I wasn't necessarily moving in that direction, but I was thinking about the web we live in. The repercussions of an individual action on another. If my MO is to myopically and perhaps decadently care for my own needs and whims (with equal fervor?) am I actually taking something from someone else? I don't want everyone who is in trouble to move in with me. I do want us to understand not only our responsibility for one another but how our social negligence will bubble to a visible surface, marring the veneer that we cling to. All of the things that make the middle class or the upper middle class feel secure - lawns, "security systems", signs of status - they all seem false if they juxtapose suffering.