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Archive for the ‘homelessness’ Category

Looking around of late, I’ve come to the realization we are all broken in a way. Each of us, if we’ve reached any kind of age of wisdom, have come through something during our time here that has carved us out and helped us to grow. Life certainly is not always easy to maneuver.

Yesterday when I was exiting my bank’s parking lot, I noticed an old car parked by the curb. The owner, or so I would presume, had covered the car with what looked to be several layers of wet blankets. Since the weather was predicted to be the hottest since weather began being recorded, my best guess is this strange behavior was an effort to keep the car cool. What looked to be piles of his or her belongings were sitting along the side of the car in the shade of a large oak tree. I noticed a panting dog tied up to a post next to them, a bowl of water sitting next to it. Two things happened to me while observing that sad scene. First, I was struck with an overwhelming gratefulness for my life and the creature comforts I have been provided. I felt thankful for the fact that I was driving along in a relatively new car, with air conditioned air blowing in my face. The fact I was still comfortably full from the breakfast I had consumed before leaving my well appointed little house. For that moment, at the very least, I felt safe. I cannot imagine being exposed to the elements in that way, with little hope of relief. I know there are many arguments on both sides of the homeless situation in this country, but I cannot look at displaced people without feeling a tug at my heart whatever the argument. The second feeling washing over me was the urge to help somehow. But how? Like many of you, I’m sure, I stop and hand a five out the window to someone holding a sign on the corner. I “round up” at the grocery store for whatever charity is showing on the credit card machine, I volunteer, but is there more to do? I’m sure there is so much more. Perhaps these little acts of kindness when done in masse serve in some small way to help those who need it? I don’t have answers for this, and I’m not sure anyone does have their finger on the pulse of it. To me every solution proposed feels a bit like applying a bandaid to a gaping wound.

If you sit around concentrating on all that is wrong in the world, you won’t make much forward progress. Sometimes acceptance is the key. Understanding, as lovely as life can be on earth, we live on a planet with both upsides and downsides. We must learn to breathe in deeply the hope and joy contained in the upsides when immersed in them, so they will sustain us when we drop off into the darkness on the other side. Today is a day when I’m breathing deeply, though not too, too deeply, as it is incredibly smokey outside my window. It wasn’t enough apparently our temperatures have been nudging the record books all week. Yesterday temps actually registering 115 at the Sacramento airport. Today I woke up to find smoke from a fire about twenty miles northeast of us, had covered the area with thick putrid air. What’s next, locusts? I looked on my front door to see if there was a red “x” marked on it. Good news, nothing there but a daddy long legs. Ach. A friend of mine, ever the doomsayer, told me the Farmer’s Almanac has predicted yet another low rainfall winter here on the west coast with higher than average temperatures. Sigh. Another sigh.

I am looking to the brighter side for comfort. My passport is tucked away all shiny and new, ready to be stamped and put into service. Where I’m going to use it, I’m not sure, but there is something comforting in knowing I could use it, should the opportunity arise. Yay. I have several local trips in the works. My friend Richard is taking me on an fishing trip he has planned the end of September. Not the fisherman Richard is, for my part it will be a chance to finish the four or five half read books I have lying around the house, take some glorious walks in the wilderness, refresh my spirit again, and enjoy a little time away from the hustle and bustle that is currently what my life feels like. Sounds delightful. Richard has a fifth wheel he takes along on these outings so we will have hot and cold running water, a shower, a kitchen, and electricity. Sort of like what my son refers to as “glamping”. Camping with a little extra something, something, on the side.

No matter what winter looks like this year, I am planning a trip to the coast. It has been far too long and my soul is craving the ocean more and more with the passing of every day. That will be next on my agenda. In November I am going to Oregon to visit a friend to celebrate our mutual birthdays, so there’s another notch in my belt. There’s no stamp on my passport involved with any of this intrastate milling about, but I like to think of it as simply priming my motor.

On the downhill side, I believe I mentioned I recently sat on my glasses. Taking them to the optometrist to get them straightened, I was informed the patient wasn’t going to make it, and it was time to order new frames. I hadn’t even noticed the old frames had begun to yellow on the bottom after many years of service keeping me out of the gutter along the highway. So, a new pair was chosen and ordered. Getting notice they were in and to pick them up on Monday, I did just that. They looked very nice, which pleased me. Glasses are such a personal accessory, and one which you must make peace with every day if you see like I do and can’t leave the house without them. I placed them on my nose and left the doctor’s office to run errands. Merging onto the freeway it became immediately clear, or unclear as the case may be, I couldn’t read any of the street signs as I cruised along. Oh-oh. Breathe, breathe deeply, Susie. Back in my old glasses, I placed a call to the optometrists office when I got home. The receptionist told me to bring the new pair back in. Okie. After comparing my new and old prescription the woman told me, “We’ll see if there is something we can do for you”. “Whoa, stop the boat, here”, says I. I just paid over $400 for these new glasses. You wrote the prescription, and you filled it. There is no “we’ll see if we can do something” involved in the equation at all, rather we will”. I am not just dropping them in my junk drawer and slinking quietly off into the sunset. Not happening. The blonde on top of this noggin is totally artificially generated but even though my hairdresser uses harsh chemicals, my thinking processes haven’t been damaged in the least. Once we’d established I was going to be annoying about the whole not seeing thing, an appointment was made for another eye exam with the opthamologist. Not a solution, but a beginning. I’ll take that.

On a sad note, Queen Elizabeth II has passed away today at 96. She was three years younger than my mum. What a life of service the woman has to her credit. Like the monarchy or not, she has to be given kudos for putting love of country before self, a trait so many of our politicians seem to have left by the wayside, and having done the job she was born to do all her life with dignity and grace. I’m sure the British will give her an admirable send off with all the pomp and circumstance accorded to those of royal birth. It will seem funny not to see her out and about at this function or that wearing those dreadful hats perched on her head, and carrying her sensible handbag. Fairwell, Elizabeth. I’m sure Charles is waiting for you. Thank you for your service.

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I am sitting here with a fresh cup of coffee next to my laptop, Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, curled up next to me, the tree lights twinkling happily, and the heater humming. Life, in this moment, is good. That’s all we have really, the moment we are occupying. Boiling some eggs for breakfast, I noticed the windows were fogging up. Another chilly morning in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Always on extreme weather days, whether the thermometer registers high or low, I think of the disenfranchised people. The forgotten people, as I often think of them. Alone, shivering in the cold on a street corner or back alley. Outside, with no place to go and hope most likely not filling their cup. So many of them seem to have animals at their side. I have to assume these furry companions also have no homes to go to or warm beds to sleep in. Makes me think of the movie “Down and Out in Beverly Hills”. Nick Nolte played a homeless man who’s dog, in the opening scenes, abandons him for a lady walking down the street with more promising circumstances.

A long time back I wrote about being without a home or finances for a two week period in my life. I had family I could have called, but pride kept me from dialing their numbers. For two weeks my ex-husband and I lived in our car in Washington state. He had a job, so our future wasn’t bleak, but the present was definitely something we had to deal with. Many people who have lost their homes or for whatever reason found themselves without means, don’t have that option waiting for them. It is difficult to get a job if you have no address, no access to a computer or device, and nowhere to clean up and prepare for an interview. That time in my life made a permanent imprint on me. Never have I felt so vulnerable or unprotected. We had a case of Vienna sausage a work buddy had given my husband, a jug of cheap white wine (one must have some concessions), several large bottles of water, and an assortment of packaged cheese and hot salami packets. Not exactly a banquet. Though there was some money in our pockets, the job we’d driven up to Washington to work on had been postponed. This meant we had to conserve what resources we had for gas, and a hotel room here and there to clean up in before my husband was to report to work. Thankfully, the trees were just beginning to change color in the northwest, so though the mornings were brisk, the days were still comfortable and being outside not yet a dangerous place to be.

Each night we would find a nook or cranny off road to park the car. Using each other for warmth, we would huddle under our blankets and get as much sleep as the uncomfortable car seats would allow. One night, we found a cutaway on a rural road and pulled in under the trees for the night. With no moon out that night, the darkness swallowed us up. Though we could see lights on the hillside coming from a farmhouse, not much else was visible. My husband, a veteran of many long night shifts, could go to sleep standing up in the corner. For me, sleep often eluded me until the wee hours. This particular night, the black sky was alive with an unbelievable array of stars. The view, to understate, was spectacular. Looking out beyond the fence line beyond the front of the car, I kept getting the eerie sensation something was looking back. I remember feeling the hairs crawl up the back of my neck. Looking back, I think the more prudent thing to do in that situation would have been to lock the doors and waken my husband. Being me, and rarely a fan of the prudent choice, I grabbed the large flashlight on the floor of the back seat, and opened the car door. Approaching the barbed wire fence, it seemed as if it stretched all along the property on both sides. Engaging the flashlight, caught in the wide beam, were ten to twelve bovine faces looking back at me. Seemingly only mildly interested in the intruder, some chewed on blades of grass, while others just stared into the light with idle curiosity. Several of them let out low moos, so I responded with “Hello”.

Smiling, I went back to the car and settled back into my spot. In about a half an hour, I found myself in the same position I’d put the cows in, a flashlight beam interrupting my sleep. Both of us sat up in a panic. It was hard to see who was holding the beam with the light in our eyes. Rolling down the window, we were surprised to find a state trooper standing on the other side. It seemed the cattle rancher had recently had some problems with poachers, and seeing my beam flood the pasture, reported a prowler to the police. Whoops.

I can still picture the man standing there. For a moment he reminded me of Paul Bunyon. I wouldn’t have been in the least surprised to see the blue ox grazing not far away. Taller than average by a half, he wore a Smokey the Bear hat on his massive head, a neatly pressed blue uniform, and had a bow tie securing his shirt collar under his chin. Though kind, and not citing us for anything, he asked us politely to move on. I’m sure for most homeless people this is a familiar request.

In two weeks, our ordeal was over. Life for us went back to fairly normal. The local food bank gave us a most appreciated box of real food to see us through until our first paycheck. I remember asking the lady handing me the box how I could repay her. She said simply, “pay it forward”. That is why I have volunteered for the food ministry for the last eight years. My way of paying back a kindness.

If you see a street person, take the time to smile or say “good morning”. You never know their story, or what could happen to put you in their situation.

Have a nice weekend. Stay warm.

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