Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wanna know what I think of you?

Land's End, Maine

“You cannot un-ring a bell.”  -  David Wallace

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”  -  Abraham Lincoln

     One of the writing techniques I have developed is to move on to a new town before I write about the one I have just gathered information on.  This seems to give me a degree of detachment that helps with perspective.  I usually choose a quiet corner in a local restaurant and spend two or three days editing photos and putting articles together.  This also gives me a chance to sit and listen to the conversations of the locals, which often gives a bit of the flavor of the new area I am going to be working on.

      I arrived in a fairly impoverished mid-sized town and found a McDonalds that is heavily frequented during the breakfast hours.  The restaurant is also situated close to the projects, the local high school and the homeless shelter, so quite a cross section of life comes through its door.

     A number of the area's homeless congregate around the outside of the restaurant in the morning, and those that have managed to put together a little money buy and share breakfast with the others.  I got to know a dozen or so of them and had been having conversations with them for three days running.  I met a woman and her 15 year old son who have been spending their nights in the shelter for the last 8 months since she had left her abusive spouse.  She has a part time job as a cashier at a convenience store but it is not enough to pay for an apartment and they are on a waiting list for a place in the projects.  I met a couple who are mentally challenged – folks that would have been institutionalized before we shut down the mental health facilities in the early 1980’s.  I met several who refuse to stay at the shelter or go to the soup kitchens – their pride keeps them from taking any handouts.  In the cold months they “live in snow banks” and find odd jobs when they can and eat out of dumpsters when no work is available.  I met several Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who were shuffled out of the military after their service and cannot find work.  I did my best to share love and hope with each one – and they all responded warmly to someone who not only didn’t judge them, but treated them as equals.

     After one of these conversations I sat back down in the dining room and went back to work.  I was aghast at the conversations of the men gathered there.  They were bitterly complaining that “their tax dollars” were going to support these worthless bums.  They lewdly speculated about the sex life of the woman I had just talked to.  After more ridicule and profanity, the conversation moved on to immigration, how our president is a communist and how much of a burden it is to be as intelligent as they are and have to deal with being able to see life’s problems so clearly.  Then they moved on to the female broadcasters on their favorite “news station” and speculated about their sex lives.  It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut – I bit my tongue several times.

      Later I asked the manager about the several dozen men who come in each morning.  He told me they are all boat captains who went out of business when the fishing industry died.  I asked him what they were living on, and he said the government made big settlements to boat captains a few years back.  I asked what happened to all the fishermen and he said those that couldn’t find other work are homeless.  Armed with this new information I felt I now had an edge on the fisherman and could pridefully avoid commenting on their conversations in the future.

     The point here is not about the fishermen whose deep fears of inadequacy cripple their brains.  It is not whether or not the homeless could perhaps find a way out – or in - if they applied themselves.  It is about why I feel I need to get judgmental about those who are being judgmental.  Does this not put me on their same level?  Can’t I find the same compassion for the spiritual illness of the coffee crowd as I do for the homeless?  Or even a small degree of it?

     The answer is no – not yet.  But I have matured enough to be able to keep my mouth shut when I cannot speak from love and compassion.  Usually.  Perhaps one day I will be able to accept each and every person as being the best they know how to be.  Maybe in time I will come to a point that my detachment will allow me to say kind things that motivate everyone I encounter.  And maybe I won't ever achieve that.  In the meanwhile I can at least keep my mouth shut when opening it will do more harm than good.

Today may I be prudent.

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Make it a great day !!