My dad was pretty athletic, and seemed to love playing baseball-type games with us. Running bases, bounce and fly, anything that would give us practice keeping our eyes on the ball.
One afternoon my brother and I were playing bounce and fly with our dad against the old brick wall behind his antique store, when out of nowhere this homeless dude appeared. I was about eight or nine at the time, and had never really seen a man in such broken down shape before, he was hunched over to the left, limping, greasy black hair hanging in his eyes, lips and eyes swollen, and talking in our general direction as he walked.
I burst into tears. I don't know if it was my fear, my sadness, or my surprise at seeing someone so beat down, but I still remember vividly how terrifying it was. My dad consoled me, but in a bit of a scolding fashion. He told me that this guy was his friend and that he helped him out every once in a while. He told me that I was scaring him.
I was scaring him.
After my dad talked with him and gave him some money, he explained to me the hard life the guy had had, how society wouldn't really allow him to succeed, him being Native American and poor. He told me that most people like that just hadn't ever been taken care of, and that was no reason to be afraid of them.
I re-live that moment in my head every time I interact with homeless people, and this summer, that is almost every day. I am handing out love stickers all over the US, and one of my rules is that I don't avoid people, no matter how rich or poor looking they are.
In fact, I would say that most of the homeless people I approach seem pretty overjoyed with my project, and give more hugs than any other group of people I encounter. My guess is that most people would prefer to ignore the homeless. I mean, I get it, they smell, they very typically want your money, and they very often look like they slept in the gutter. But when you look at them, they usually behave like a kid on Christmas.
It's not that I don't have a visceral reaction to smelling days of old urine on a person, it's not that I am not still a little intimidated, it's just that I can't help but remember my father's reaction to my horror. Embarrassment.
My dad was embarrassed that his daughter was not open to this scary stranger, and frankly, part of me is still a little ashamed. Bursting into tears at the sight of someone is not exactly the best way to go about meeting new people. Even if they are a little scary.
And the number of homeless people across the country is growing. The more that people fall through the cracks, the more they are pushed to living on the streets. What does this have to do with self love? What does this have to do with body positivity? It's that we can't possibly live in a society where so many people are left behind. We can't allow ourselves, as thinking, feeling people, to allow this.
Bussing people to other cities, moving to other neighborhoods, or avoiding city parks is not going to make this probem go away. Eventually, we are going to have to figure out a way to care for people. Eventually we are going to have to accept that these people are not separate from us, they are us.
They are part of the organism we call humanity, and ignoring them is like ignoring that weird pain in your side that pops up when you bend to the left. That stabbing pain that shoots through you to the point that it keeps you from bending that way.
It is not like our society is becoming more just, or that economic inequality is evening out. These people are growing in numbers. The more the "Haves" have, the less for the rest. That is what we are looking at.
Caring for people, even ugly, smelly people, is something that must happen, and soon, politically, econmically, and socially. VA programs defunded, insane asylums closed down, and care facilities that no longer take in and rehabilitate those in need are just some of the reason the homeless population is growing.
The question is, what can I do? I have seen many people and places struggling to help, but what can our society do, a society that gives more to the military and large corporate interests than to education, healthcare, and support for the needy?
The answer is in the question.
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
~Dwight D. Eisenhower
Political, I know, but it is hard to wade through crowds of homeless people in need and behave as if everything is just dandy. Whatever you can do to help, including treating yourself with more kindness, will help. Compassion, even when turned inward, will reverberate across humanity and change things.
Where it Started
In the beginning, it surprised me. I would be so shocked when a person who I was speaking with would start crying without warning, I usually didn't even know how to respond. At first, I chalked it up to being from the midwest. PNW people, I reasoned, were much less tough than midwesterners. At work, at school, in my personal life, it was like some kind of dark magic I wielded unknowingly, and for a long time, I really believed it was everyone else's problem.
After a while, I kinda got control of it, and I realized I could actually use this magical power. I didn't use it often, but when I did, wow. It was powerful. I got really good at being prepared for shitty situations with more shittiness. For someone who had always imagined after every conversation what I should have said, this was a revelation. Again, I used it at work, at school, and yes, even in my personal life. The better I knew someone, the more potent my dark magic could be.
Eventually though, this started to make me feel pretty horrible. Making people cry, while handy in certain situations, left me feeling sick.
Then one day I was playing with several kids in the 8 to 10 year old range, and one of the kids said something super mean to the other, and she started to cry. Not just cry, she sobbeduncontrollably. It broke my heart. I wanted to help her, so I took the mean girl aside and I told her that she had a choice, she could either give people a reason to smile, or a reason to cry, and she would have to live with the consequences either way. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that message was actually for me. The message I delivered to this 10 year old girl who could not control herself and hurt her friend, was actually for me. A forty year old woman.
I realized that this magical power I had wielded so handily would have to be put away for good, no matter how awful the person I was dealing with seemed to be. I decided I would have to develop another kind of magic. I started slow and small, and man, I was not in any way good at it. Making people smile was not something I had ever really practiced, or cared about. But the first time it worked, it was huge.
I was at work. There was this woman there who walked around all the time with a scowl on her face, which seemed to be a foreshadowing event to what she might say to you when she approached. I had always avoided her at work, challenging though it was, as I ran all the service centers at my job and would occassionally break my employees and help customers.
One day, as I was walking across campus, I spotted her coming toward me, all grump and darkness, and I decided to be the opposite. I started skipping. I smiled brightly, and I called out to her as if I hadn't seen her in a long time, like it was so good to see her again. I even waved. BIG.
Unbelievably, magically, her whole demeanor changed. A smile, strange and bright, spread across her face, and she asked why I was in such a good mood. Okay, the smile was more like the beginning of a laugh, (when I skip I look a bit silly), but still, it was a smile, and I told her my mood was due to seeing her. Then, it happened. A genuine smile. It was quite wonderful.
After that, every time she saw me, she smiled and was quite pleasant. In fact, after a while, I couldn't help but smile when she came around. People would ask me why she was so nice to me. She started being a kind of ally at work when people were stupid. It was quite remarkable what one very simple interaction could do to an entire work relationship. After that, I worked in this way, very often over-shooting my goal with ridiculousness. After a few years, I got it down to a science. I focus on having a positive effect on everyone I come into contact with, if I can help it. Sometimes, I slip and don't quite make the goal, but still, this result fills me up and energizes me. This result actually feeds me.
While this story is simple, maybe even a bit boring, I believe it is important right now. We are surrounded by people who are trying to scare us into behaving horribly. We are being intimidated into inaction. We must not allow it. We must not let the horrendous behavior of the few influence us. I know it is not easy. Believe me. I am someone who is so good at being mean. I mean, I have skills that would make most people shudder. But I cannot allow someone to have that kind of control over me. I won't give in. I won't give up.
I have been talking with many people lately who want to hide, give up, or ignore what is going on. But this is not that time. This is the time to fight back. This is the time to muster all the strength we have and believe in each other, be there for each other, and not allow this awful hatred to take us. Hate spreads like a disease, but kindness and compassion is also quite contagious.
So if you only do one thing, be kinder to yourself. Treat yourself like you are the most important person in the world. This alone will make a difference.
After that, practice on others. After that, the world. This is no time to give up on humanity. This is the time to fight for it. Even if it is only showing greater love for yourself. Even if it is only not being so hard on yourself. It matters. You matter.
Please don't give up.
Be Kind! The world needs everyone right now. Now more than ever, in fact! Also A Love Rebellion is in Sacramento at this very moment, spreading love and compassion. Wanna follow along? Go to the WEBSITE!
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