Those of us who have a “legitimate” place to sleep, even those who rent their space, feel entitled. We paid for our space, it belongs to us, we own it, we control it. We do not often acknowledge the gifts of others that made it possible for us to have “ownership.” In retrospect, however, everything our parents and family, our teachers, our mentors, and even our employers have done for us was done because they believed in us. They believed we would become a benefit to the world. They saw a potential in us. Do we “own” that potential, do we own or control our genetics, do we own or control a social mixture that has made it possible for US to have a place to sleep? I think the answer is obvious, and we have much to be grateful for.
It is difficult for us to imagine ourselves perpetually camping in secret hiding places, to live a life that is “out of control,” chaotic and somewhat hopeless. Empathy for those of us who have fallen into such despair is a very frightening prospect, perhaps even more frightening than facing our own death because we don’t have healthy skills for dealing with despair, so it appears endless. Most of us avoid it with overwork, sex, drugs, alcohol and rock ‘n roll, or any other means of escape that we can find. When we see a homeless person, we pretend we don’t see them because the pain of knowing them as real human beings is more than we think we can bear.
I sincerely believe we must become acquainted with the homeless person within us. We are all homeless, in a manner of speaking. Nothing that we “own” is truly ours or truly in our personal power to control. We are perilously close to a life of chaos, and we know this intuitively. The daily news repeats the looming dangers of disease, starvation, war, banditry, natural disasters, and economic collapse. I doubt that any of us, even the most alert and wealthiest survivalist, has an emergency preparedness plan that will guarantee their being in control of all contingencies, especially a series of cascading crises.
When we realize how fragile we are, we are more likely to support each other. We are all in this together. How well we take care of each other is the measure of how well we take care of ourselves. The separation we may feel between us and the person with the cardboard sign is an illusion that we create to protect ourselves from feeling our own fear. Fear will not kill us, and denial of fear will. The heroes of our culture are the ones who face their fears and take action that benefits others, not themselves. Be a hero, or find one to follow. Most of all, acknowledge the homeless people for being the heroes that they are — for not giving up, for having the courage to ask for help (when have you asked for help — really big help — lately?), and for giving us the opportunity to see ourselves for who WE really are.