Pinstripes and Garbage Bags
By David Ramos
This morning I had an ironic encounter on my way to work as I enjoyed listening to U2’s Crumbs From Your Table. While traveling on the “A” train there was a homeless man who had had used garbage bags to apparently extend the longevity of his shoes. He had also creatively used garbage bags to wrap his dirty silted clothes. His hair was encrusted and he looked weary. I had not witnessed that kind of extreme poverty in New York for some time now. Our homeless are now ushered away from plain sight by the police department lest they disturb us, it is the legacy of the “quality of life” policies to help “clean up our streets.” At one moment, just before my stop, I saw the reflection of this man with mine in the windows of the train doors. I saw this man dressed in garbage bags while I was on my way to work in a pinstripe suit. The thought occurred to me how easily it could be that the roles be reversed, that I could be dressed in garbage bags and he in a pinstripe suit. As the saying goes, “There before the grace of God go I.”
What were the factors that led to the demise of this child of God? Was it substance abuse? Mental illness? Was it some graphic loss that he experienced and lost the will to cope? Do the reasons really matter in the face of his need? I observed this man who was but two feet away from me. Before the doors opened someone came over and gave the man a dollar. He seemed so tired that he barely moved to accept it. I on the other hand did nothing nor was I even moved to give. I did nothing but write this log, the one that now indicts me.
“You speak of signs and wonders
But I need something other
I would believe
If I was able
But I’m waiting on the crumbs
From your table.”
Crumbs From Your Table
in the everyday, mundane, we often overlook the situations of unnamed persons you mentioned…
the first step is taking notice (so the homeless don’t become fixtures or walldressing) and asking the questions you did. where i often get stumped with is, “what, if anything, can i do next?”
We recently had a divine encounter with a homeless man. Check it out here: http://genxcel.blogspot.com/2005/06/judah-meet-jesus.html
You are right–now what? I’m afraid that my attempt to answer that question will only indict me all the more. Let the guilt roll. I guess as social workers we know that there is the micro, mezzo, macro answers. The micro is us responding to do what we can (“a glass of water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked.”), at the mezzo level it is providing the direct services and advocacy this child of God needs. At the macro level it would be addressing the systemic realities that may perpetuate the problem or may serve as an obstacle to addressing or preventing the problem. Forgive me if this is all too obvious or superficial.
not at all “obvious”. even with knowing what we know, part of the journey is to remain disturbed and conflicted when it comes to these kinds of issues…at least that’s what i believe…
there’s also the underlying tension of individual and systemic transformation. what can we do to plug some holes, and what can we do to look at what’s causing the holes…
I agree because I am definitely conflicted on many issues. I think this is rather human and the locus of true theological struggle, not mere cognitive abstractions but an authentic struggle to attempt to actualize our ideals. Like they say dreaming doesn’t cost anything unless you want those dreams to come true. I guess sometimes our visions haunt us because they point to a possible future. I’m glad that our unrest is sometimes painful, perhaps painful enough for us to attempt to alter present conditions. Mi hermano it is honor to struggle with you in this journey.