Tuesday, February 05, 2008

single file

i happened to be around at check in time. the line was long and ragged and heaving and jovial and shuffling and cold. i sat for awhile and watched folks going through the drill, the man with the security wand waving it over outstretched arms, the other with gloves on doing discreet bag checks, weapons you see, they are not allowed.

i notice one guy, his belongings are in an old 10 gallon bucket. he lifts it up on the table for the cursory look. the guy behind him is bouncing, cracking jokes. his red hat tells me which team he favors or perhaps he simply wore it because it was all he had.

the woman in the wheelchair, she's smoking and spinning her chair in listless circles. her hair's a bit matted, eyes darting around. she's got a bag on her lap, she looks unhappy and it's easy to imagine why. a social worker walks out and talks to her, she smiles a bit and starts talking, talking, talking. the social worker listens. i know this listening, sometimes it's all you've got.

i spot someone i know so i jump off the desk i am perched on to go say hello. a man opens a door for me, a tall man with a shirt that says he's a vietnam vet. he's staying here along with vets from almost every war we've had in the last fifty years. i thank him and he smiles a beautiful broad smile. i smile back and walk through the door, his veteran-ness not lost upon me and a thousand questions cross my brain and i ask none of them because the moment is not right.

there's an old guy, he's limping and has a long bushy beard. he bends over to pick up something he's dropped and for a minute i think he's going to fall over. someone else steadies him, puts his hand on his back and picks up the dropped item and hands it to him. the old guy smiles, mumbles a few words and limps inside.

another man heads into the building and walks up to the desk. he asks to use the phone and is told he has to wait. there are rules for that here too, see. even a simple phone call requires a process. i understand these things, these many peace keeping things that are necessary when you are warehousing human beings and yet at the same time it all seems so complicated, this stripping of rights in the name of mercy.

and then a guy walks past the desk grinning and announces they've got BBQ tonight, y'all. A few of the guys clap their hands, this shelter meal perhaps a bright spot in the midst of endless circles, of waiting and cold and fear and loneliness and for a brief moment the thought of food is uniting, the hope of a hot meal and a spot of kindness along the way.

33 comments:

hypoglycemiagirl said...

as usual your stories makes me shut off the rest of the world for a little while and just focus on what you have to tell. thanks for these reminders that there's a world outside my self-centered head

carrie said...

Yes, you are amazing at providing perspective.

And you paint a beautiful, yet somber portrait of the line.

Also -- if you haven't read Arkie Mama's (arkiemama.blogspot.com) latest post about the homeless pageant queen, you should. You'll appreciate it, I promise! :)

wheelsonthebus said...

Not quite sure how you turned this one into poetry, but you did.

Joker The Lurcher said...

those little kindnesses, they are what make us human. there is something very sobering about the fact that people with so little still have enough humanity to help someone else, yet so often those with everything will step over someone who has fallen over, without a backward glance.

kristen said...

i love these glimpses into your work day.

someday, when we visit your neck of the woods as a family, i hope that i could ask you to take my girl to work with you, there's a strong urge inside of her to help the homeless.

she was with the mister on sunday in the city and railed him out for walking past a homeless man, asking for food. she wanted to go back and give him her 1/2 eaten energy bar, anything. and we had to have a long discussion about why daddy wouldn't help and how she could have made an impact.

ok, i'm done.

Hetha said...

Your writing just takes my breath away. It's not just the humanity of your content, but the way you work with language just drips raw talent.

Beck said...

What are shelters in cold places like mine particularily in need of right now? Our church has been talking a lot about how to address immidiate needs in shelters and we're wondering what would be best to bring.

Gwen said...

I like how ordinary you made this all seem ... and yet not. It has a way of humanizing the experience that makes it difficult to look away.

Mad Hatter said...

"these many peace keeping things that are necessary when you are warehousing human beings and yet at the same time it all seems so complicated, this stripping of rights in the name of mercy."

Only you have the words to make this all real for us, Jen. Sometimes your words are just, plain magic.

Kyla said...

You make my heart go BOOM, friend.

Sober Briquette said...

Yesterday after my dentist appointment I was driving along the bus route, which runs past the shelter. The bus must have been due shortly: every stop within the two mile stretch had a two or three people at it. This is not a city where people of all ways and means take the bus. Only the poorest, who have no alternative. Each wore an expression mirroring the damp gray of the sky, as they waited.

I wonder where they were all going, and think, there but for the grace of God, go I.

cce said...

"i know this listening, sometimes it's all you've got." I'm humbled and amazed by your story telling - except it's not fiction. It's just lovely and the perfect reminder that those of us that enjoy the simple creature comforts of home and family should consider ourselves lucky.

Jennifer said...

You and your words. Your perspective. And the way the things you see move me. Amazing.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Amazing how there is so much beauty that can be missed.

Amy Y said...

If only it weren't just the shelter that they can find a spot of kindness... but all around them ~ wherever they looked. Only in a perfect world, I s'pose.

flutter said...

seriously, jen? It is such an honor to watch you blossom into this writer of such incredible insight

Wayfarer Scientista said...

hey, missy, just catching up on 7 posts and want you to know that I READ all of them, I always do, even if I've been missing. And I'm excited with you about Super Tuesday and sad about Edwards and hope that Ms. M is feeling better and that you have finally gotten her out of her princess dress for a few minutes and I am so glad to hear of your stories of those who have so little, even those who gave us so much. Enjoy the caucusing tonight...or primary, whichever it is where you are.

ewe are here said...

Such a dark existence for so many, and yet you open it up to the light and show it to the world.

More needs to be done.

slouching mom said...

oh, jen. thank you so much for these vignettes. so real, so poignant. you know how to bring what you see to life for all of us. a gift, that.

QT said...

I just caught up on all your posts. This last one, tho, was really a gem. I am with the others here who say your writing - wow. This post is exceptional, and not just in content, friend.

NotSoSage said...

oh, how i've missed glimpsing the world through your eyes, jen.

lovely.

kgirl said...

you have superpowers, my friend - you see things that others never would.

Aliki2006 said...

I can see them all--each and every one of them.

hele said...

You write with such power.

Family Adventure said...

Beautiful post, again, Jen. "His veteran-ness not lost upon me" - so powerful.

Heidi

mamatulip said...

This is a beautiful post, Jen.

gumdropsandbubblethoughts said...

You always show that there is always light even in the most darkest hour of our lives..

You are truly a beautifully writer, Jen.

Ally said...

Thanks for letting us see this line, and these people, through your beautiful eyes. I agree with kgirl that you've got some special super powers, the ability to see right to the heart of the matter, to be vulnerable to the humanity around you. Truly, this is such a gift.

La La said...

Wow! your ability to capture the images and moments are stunning. Thank you!

blessings.

crazymumma said...

I wonder what they think when they see you. What sort of a telling they wuld give.

ms chica said...

"this stripping of rights in the name of mercy."

I hear you. In my heart, I know the hoop jumping is purposeful and not circus related, but in my gut I want to shear all the red tape with my chipped nails.

Tis I. said...

"spare change" the woman at the intersection of the alley asked.
"I find it ironic," the woman answered, "that you can afford to smoke and yet you ask Me for change. I can't afford to smoke."

"Bitch!" the first woman yelled back.

I was walking home from school.

"It's entertainment right?" I asked, applying grown up reasoning and previous conversations to my happened upon situation.

"What?" she yelled at me.

"Well. That lady probably goes to movies and dinner and theatre. You smoke. You should tell them that it's your entertainment cost." I was trying to be helpful and diplomatic and I was trying to save her pride, but I was ten and there was no pride to save.

"It curbs the appetite you little mouse. And someone gave it to me when I asked for a quarter."

"Oh." I said.

It's all perspective.

Who are we to judge.

Tis I. said...

btw.

""this stripping of rights in the name of mercy."

Resonates Loud and Strong with me. You worded that Fantastic.