Some young professionals were sitting in a diner talking about their visions
for the future. Once they made enough money, they’d buy a farm somewhere
and finally find some peace. One would open a yoga studio.
Another would build a Zen sanctuary and retreat.
A redneck in the corner overheard and shouted,
“You don’t know shit about peace. You don’t know
the first God-damned thing about peace.”
They objected, of course, that they read
Thich Nhat Hanh and D T Suzuki.
In the country quiet, they averred,
they could meditate on universal truths.
The redneck philosopher snapped back,
“You think it’s quiet in the country?
That only means you never lived one damned day in the country. “
But these professionals spent many holidays in the fresh air,
hiking, biking, camping, and learning to appreciate the outdoor
wonders the universe offers to those who can see.
In a blind fury, this hick shouted,
“I don’t give a good God damn if you walked a thousand miles in the desert.
If you can’t find peace wherever you are, if you don’t take peace with you,
you can never find it. Can’t you see that? Can’t you fucking see?”
With that, this veteran
picked up his duffle bag and
shuffled into the street.
The sky burns an oppressive blood orange
as billions of beings run for scarce refuge.
The storm sends ash and ember debris pouring
everything but water in a scorching deluge.
It’s only the sea that declines to refuse
protection for those in panic so dire.
As they pray to be saved from this cosmic abuse,
They remember God would spare them from water, not fire.
Yes, we talk about the pain and suffering of depression (rightly so!), and we ignore the allure of this deadly disease because we don’t want to tempt anyone. We don’t want it to look like we’re encouraging people to have a deadly disease. But what happens if we don’t talk about it? How can anyone understand it? I mean, there’s this giant monster sort of hanging around threatening you for days, months, or years, and you stay busy to ignore it. And one day you just say, “Go on then.,” and you get a big hug. You just disappear in there. You’re lost in the warm embrace of infinite apathy. Nothing matters anymore. The cruel family members, indifferent friends, soul-crushing job all just become indistinct parts of a distant life that no longer has any bearing on you. You don’t care whether you live or die, and that’s the scary part. At least it’s scary for other people. You don’t care. This is why someone told me my depression was a “luxury.” I was luxuriating in dissociation and alienation. I was there and not there and couldn’t be reached. And being out of reach has distinct advantages. When you are no longer of the world, the world has no power. What will it take to bring you home?
Depression is a question
of stamina. We know how to win.
Build walls and fill them with light
even as darkness batters the barricades,
threatening a wholesale invasion. So we turn on more lights,
call more friends, play, dance, and work, work, work.
This isn’t mania,
unless swimming to shore
in a river of white-water rapids is also mania.
and we can make it.
We just need a break from the madness.
Maybe a few moments rest. Just a little quiet?
And that’s it.
The lights have gone out.
The music has gone off.
The food is tasteless.
The walls have crumbled.
The weighted black blanket presses comfortably
on the chest. And there we are.
People use the phrase “homeless people” as if it refers to a type of person instead of a type of circumstance. People without access to shelter are sometimes born into a homeless situation, but they are not “born that way” in the same way that tall people are born with genes for height.
If you spend any time at all talking to people without homes, you will quickly realize you are much closer to being homeless than you are likely to want to admit. I honestly believe this is why so many people avoid those conversations at all costs.
I suppose we are most affected by stories that relate closely to our own lives. At least, I know that is true for me, so I will never forget meeting a homeless man who taught at the same college as I. He was highly educated and had been living quite comfortably until a medical emergency left him in a coma for some time. He wasn’t expected to live, much less come out of the coma and leave the hospital, but sometimes medical miracles do happen.
When this man got out of the hospital, he found that his sister and nephews, thinking he was dying, had emptied all the money from all his accounts and gone on a cross-country spending spree. The money could not be retrieved, and prosecuting the thieves would mean sending his own family to jail. As he told me he couldn’t bring himself to file charges, tears rolled down his cheeks. He was still teaching classes while trying to hide the fact that he was homeless from his students and employer.
I spoke to hundreds of people who were in crisis, and I would say that the most common causes of their homelessness were medical emergencies that resulted in job and/or income loss, failed businesses or theft of businesses funds by unscrupulous business partners, failed romantic relationships, mental illness, grief, domestic abuse, and, yes, addiction. This last one (addiction) should simply fall under illness, but I recognize that many people believe that addiction is a personal choice, and this belief enables them to blame homelessness on the victims of depression, grief, or other factors that lead to addiction. No one chooses to become an addict and lose everything.
Another category deserves a separate post, really, and that is young people who are thrown out of their family homes for being different, usually for being LGBT+. These young people are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including murder.
I suppose some people are wealthy enough to be insulated from the risk of homelessness, but many people I spoke to had lost all the things you have and take for granted. They had homes, cars, businesses, and all that goes with those things, including pride, self-worth, dignity and comfort. Many of the people I met were able to maintain their feelings of pride, dignity, and self-worth despite seemingly every part of their families, their society, and their government trying to take those away from them. I was and remain in awe of the people who have managed to fight their way back from the brink without being destroyed by their situation.
Many aren’t able to overcome the odds, and each death is a failure of society to look out for every member. Immanuel Kant famously said that if we will heartlessness to those who are victims of misfortune, we are willing indifference to our own suffering when our time comes. No one gets out of this world alive, so your time is coming. Have you acted in ways that make you worthy of compassion and respect?
When I was a teenager, I stopped putting ice
in my “iced” tea, and started drinking it right
out of the pitcher at room temperature. After an
initial phase of alarm on the part of my family, they
sort of just decided that if I was too lazy to put ice
in my tea, then I deserved to suffer all the
consequences that might entail, which,
I have to tell you, weren’t very serious
consequences in the end. I still enjoyed
strong and sweet freshly brewed tea,
but I didn’t have to worry about ice
trays or running out of room in the
freezer or any of that stuff. I was just
happy in my own kind of way.
A few years ago, I moved to England,
where nobody drinks iced tea,
so ice is no longer an issue, but
I still drink tea at room temperature,
which surprises the people who notice,
because most people don’t drink tea
that has “gone cold” around here.
I do, of course, and it isn’t really a
problem so long as I hold onto my
tea mug in case someone notices
it has gone cold and dumps it in the sink.
And, yes, in both countries I still get
judgmental comments about how I like
a little tea in my sugar, but I’m not bothered.
Like when I go to Starbucks and order a
flat white, and the cashier asks what size
I want, and I say there is only one size of
flat white, pointing at the menu, but the
cashier says, no sir, you can have whatever
size you want, and I say, yes, but any other
size is not a flat white, is it? It’s just some
milk with coffee in it, and the barista is
confused as to why I’m so exercised about
a coffee order.