This morning as I sat in my car, my seat warmer keeping my ass nice and toasty, Elvis Duran is entertaining me because they’re talking about what movie represents your love life … and I think to myself is there a movie with clowns in it that aren’t scary? And it doesn’t dawn on me until they’re been off the air for two hours, that it’s Patch Adams!
And while these incredibly important thoughts are dancing in my head, I stop at a red light, under the subway tracks in the Bronx. I see a man walking with two large garbage bags. He has a hood covering most of his face (it’s about 25 degrees outside), he’s bundled up in a puffy, black ski jacket and he’s carrying these bulging sacks, one over each shoulder. He walks in front of my car – and keeps going. Somewhere.
I’ve lived in the NYC area most of my life, so homeless people are no strangers to me. They’re everywhere in my periphery and I’ve become desensitized to seeing them. I can walk briskly down Madison Avenue and use my tunnel vision to ignore the sadness hiding blatantly on the streets. It lurks everywhere and homelessness in the cold is so ugly – and I don’t do anything about it. I cry for all of them and say silent prayers to the powers that be. I want to leak money from my pockets and leave a trail in my wake, but I am not rich enough for that. Not even close.
But on this frigid morning, I took note of this one man, as he walked with the entire weight of his world in his garbage bags. The very act of crossing the street, carrying this heaviness, was so visually gripping. Like a car accident we drive by, the light turned green and I moved on. I had to drive my daughter to school.
Then, like I do for the hundreds of people I see and meet, I imagine the life story that brought him here. I envision struggles or addictions. Mostly it occurs to me that I am judging him – and by doing so, am I implying that I am better than him?
I also have no job, but it’s a choice. I could go back to a corporate job and quickly set up some responsible 401K or 529 business; I could do it all by the books. Only I’ve tried that already. I planned my way through life until it laughed John Lennon’s poetic lesson right back at me. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” When I stopped planning, I started living in the moment, allowing me to be true to myself. I followed love and life took me on a ride. Uptown with heroin addicts, downtown with rats, to my dad’s basement in Staten Island, and finally, to our own apartment. So we were lucky, but how long will fortune surround us an invisible shroud of protection? How long can you go on being carefree in a very expensive world? How much is that dream worth to you? I lived without a safety net and survived. But as the saying goes, luck runs out.
We could be “those” people with one bad month – we were almost those people. When Hurricane Sandy wiped our safety net, we had to turn to credit cards. What if our sole-breadwinner, who happily supports my year of no income for me to pursue my writing career, suddenly loses his job?
Life is just a series of moments strung together, and any one moment can change the trajectory of our whole life. Losing a job, a spouse, getting a bad medical diagnosis – or even that Bitch, Mother Nature.
We’re all in this life ride alone; only we know what it’s like to walk in our own shoes. Only we know what it’s like to see through our eyes.
This morning I realized I was in the “I Ignore Homeless People” club and I wasn’t sure what that said about me or even how that made me feel. More importantly, what it would take to change it.