I saw him while I was sitting at a traffic light. He was an older man shuffling along a parking lot of a 7 Eleven just across the street from me. He was bundled in clothes too heavy for the warm day but I’m sure it’s what he wears every day in this winter season. There are no closets full of choices for the poor and the indigent.
He was pushing a shopping cart full of stuff I couldn’t recognize…sacks and plastic bags of things he had collected along whatever journey of despair he was on that day. His pant legs hung over old ruined boots and dragged the ground as he moved. There was something about those droopy cuffs scraping the pavement that overwhelmed me with sadness. He looked so weary in the slow pace of his efforts.
People got in and out of their cars around him coming and going to the convenient store to pick up this or that oblivious to this man’s hunger or illness or just weariness. He was simply a part of the tacky landscape of that part of town.
None of us ever really see him.
Where was he going, I wondered? What kind of loneliness would he settle into in the night?
How do we help a man like this? He wasn’t on a street corner with a cardboard sign asking for a handout. Whatever you think of his scavenging at least he was attempting to survive on his own. But just giving him a few dollars is almost an insult both to him and to us.
It is easy to simply dismiss the poor and the homeless as lazy derelicts whose hopeless circumstances probably serve them right. Many today think this. Those of us with plenty of resources often just have no understanding or sympathy for those who live without work, income, food, shelter, or any promise of a better life.
PBS was looking at the Occupy Wall Street movement the other night. They showed a clip of when it first started in New York City. A couple of wealthy investment brokers had walked out of the extravagant offices of their sheltered empire and had wandered into the crowd of protesters.
A reporter was there who talked with them. One of them was a fortyish white-headed handsome man in a striking blue suit who sniffed at the people about him saying with a smirk how he was glad to be rich and loved his wealth and thought the protesters were a silly amusement. His demeanor was bathed in condescension and disdain. His mood was how dare these deadbeats block the path to his favorite five star restaurant with a private club.
What of course he is incapable of realizing is how more pathetic he is than the old man pushing his cart in front of the 7 Eleven.
I am in no way opposed to people succeeding or having plenty of money or being wealthy. What I am opposed to is living in a society that seems to be so materialistic and so shallow that it only cares about that and that alone. Anyone who isn’t rich and powerful and connected to the influential, anyone who isn’t some kind of celebrity, simply doesn’t matter. That is a corrupting mindset in our country and it is an increasingly prevailing one.
This whole business of slashing government resources and letting the affluent, moneyed folks run the country so their vast resources will trickle down into regular society is preposterous. With rare exceptions the wealthy do not pick up the slack in helping those without. Those without are left to fend for themselves. And when they get sick or commit crimes or fill the streets with their loneliness it is not the wealthy who are asked or who act to assist them. It’s the rest of us who pay for their care through rising health insurance premiums, decreased property values, increased security in our businesses, inadequate public schools because of a lack of funding, and the income stagnation of our own jobs because the company or organization we work for has cut pay and benefits in order to survive.
The current imbalance of wealth in America is a disgrace and a mockery of the freedoms and rights and the Constitution we were founded on. Financial expert and bestselling author, Suze Orman, has said the Middle Class in this country “is on a highway to poverty.” She added, “Not a sidewalk but a highway!” And she is right. And it’s because we are fast becoming a nation of simply the rich and the poor.
I want to live in a society where the government actually cares about its citizens, where there is real equal opportunity, where there is representative government and not a one party dictatorship, where there is a fair tax system, where all people are valued whatever their race or religion or social status, where children are prized and their education is paramount, where the old are protected and given comfort in their last years even if they can’t afford it, where the sick and injured are offered adequate health care they can afford, where war is a last resort and the security of our nation is defended by its open-mindedness and cooperation and respect for all other nations who are not seen as ours to own and control for our own selfish reasons.
As the light changed and I moved on in my car I saw him approach the intersection lifting his head and looking around in fear wondering perhaps if he would safely make it to the other side. He was a shuffling metaphor for our country. I fear, too; will we make it to the other side as well, where as a nation we find a better way than where we are now?
© 2012 Timothy Moody