Lucero, our homeless activist friend who is staying with us just returned from doing what I call, her nightly social work. She described an 80 year old lady whom she has known for about 4 years. She was leaning against a wall tightly holding on to her plastic bags of stuff. She told Lucero she use to have suit cases, but so many have been stolen now she just keeps her few possessions in the bags.
This kind of story is why I wrote the following, honored to have it published last Thursday, 3/19, as an opinion piece by our local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. If you feel you are lacking in empathy, or know others who appear to lack empathy for the thousands of our fellow Americans who live on the streets, you are welcome to share my article.
And, during these difficult times, take care of yourself and others who may need your empathy, compassion and love.
A search, maybe a find – Homelessness and The Virus in America:
In the last few weeks I have probably received hundreds of emails about “how COVID 19” is, or will affect America. Hardly any of these posts mention how the virus will impact on the most vulnerable group among us – those who wake up every day without a roof over their head.
As for me, I awoke this morning a little tired, but extremely grateful. First of all I was alive. Second, at eighty one I am a relatively healthy person. Lastly I woke up – not on a concrete bed, or a bench, but in a warm, comfortable bed.
And you? Was the place you found to sleep hard or soft? Did you sleep comfortably? Or did a policeman awake you at 2 am with a flashlight in your eyes because you had searched and found a grassy place in a public park? A park, though it’s called public, where it’s forbidden for a person to sleep at night, but where any dog finds it easy without constraint, to romp or sleep – day or night.
Yes, I woke up and walked from bedroom to bath, where I found and enjoyed a hot shower; a washcloth, towel, soap and shampoo – all mine.
And you? On the sidewalk or a bench, did you find a bit of turf to sleep? Or did you worry that someone might sneak up and harm you; or once again steal some of your homeless treasure?
From carpeted bedroom to a proper toilet I went, half naked, where the only thing I worried about was how long it would take, as with every morning, for this old man to pee?
And you? Did you find a place to so conveniently do your morning necessities? Or did you first have to search for something to wear, and then find your way to the closest place to pee or defecate, and a place to wash; or even a shower?
In my own shower, I thought about what I would wear for the day? What pants and shirt, socks and shoes would I find in my cupboard or drawers? Would I wear brown or blue, or something gray?
And you? Did you arise to face the dawn’s bitter cold, or feel the hard licks of a rainy day? And then, did you have to search in one of your black plastic bags and select from your vast wardrobe one pair of pants, or a dress; a shirt or a blouse on your way to moving from, and, to another day of no place to call your own?
After my shower, I sat on my bed and pulled up my pants, put on my shirt and found a yarmulke to match. Doing so, I thought of my great grandfather in Russia, where Czar Nicholas II had forbade Jews to even wear a yarmulke, or to travel from one town to another without government permission.
And here I am, I thought, free to sleep, wear, and go where I want – thanks only to my grandfather’s wisdom to flee the pogroms and antisemitism of eastern Europe.
Did I choose this freedom to be? Not really! Like so many Jews, or other migrants who eventually found a safe place, I am largely a beneficiary of good luck and fate. Were it not for my grandparents’ vision of a better life, I would not be here this morning or any other. Perhaps, even their courage to flee their Anatefka, like Tevya, was b’sherdt – fate?
Not here would I be, enjoying my space, even a place to pull up my pants, put on my shoes. In fact, were it not for some mysterious fate, absent of unimaginable evil, I might have long ago been turned into smoke and ash. Body to ash, at one of those ghastly places from where so many of my Russian and Polish family’s ashes floated away.
Everything: A search and maybe a find. Emigrants, citizens, a place to call home, or a place on the street? Sure, some of our reality unlike this virus is the result of bad choices. But so much of what we search for, and where we find ourselves is a matter of sheer luck – fate: Raised with love and care, or anger and abuse? Taught to see one’s glass half full, or half empty? Lectured abut the importance of a good education, or a home where silence stifled ambition? A bed, or a bench? A legal place to pee, or a bush? A sidewalk, maybe a shelter; or a healthy lovely place to call our own – hopefully having avoided this catastrophe called COVID 19?
Yes, some are moved by fate. Others are moved by the pain and misery of others. Others lack empathy and therefore show no or little compassion for the suffering of others.
They too are homeless: Absent from any residence where character, truth and health may safely abide.
Rabbi Philip Posner, retired, with a Doctorate in Ethics, is also the author of: The Rabbi and His Famous Friends – Food for Thought, Character and Soul – Recipes and Blessings Included.