In the early mornings, I go to a café that’s open twenty-four hours. There is a man I find is there before me, and I reach there around seven a.m. He wears an old red tie and is sometimes sleeping a little, his head hung over his Dell computer.
When I first saw him I assumed he was a business man, but after seeing him slumped over his computer, it occurred to me that his tie was too old fashioned, he is probably a homeless man who spends some of his nights at this very café that I’m sitting in right now.
At first it alarmed me to be sharing a space with a homeless man. I think it made me see very closely that I wasn’t that different or far away from his situation. I wonder if he’s looking for a job too. I wonder if he wants to reinvent himself as I do.
I’ve never been homeless before but I did live in hostel once when I lived in New York City. There were mostly visitors from other countries in there, but every now and then a homeless person would show up. And there I was, confronted with my own fears of losing everything.
I remember one woman very clearly. She was Indian as well, and that scared me even more. She was highly educated, she had been a stock broker, but lost everything after September 11th. I was highly educated and I had just lost my job, god her face scared me because I could see myself in it.
This woman liked me because we shared a culture and I would listen to her stories, I was fascinated and from the way she spoke, very intelligently, I could tell she was once something spectacular. She just couldn’t get herself together after the tragedy. She was probably in her mid-forties.
It can happen any time, can’t it? We could, all of us, lose everything. In this economy the rate of home foreclosures is astonishing. What happens to these people? Where do they go? They were once our neighbors and now we fear them, look down on them.
They are probably homeless.
I think if I were homeless I would pick myself up and try to do anything, almost anything legal, to get out of the situation. But what if I fell into a deep depression because of my situation and wasn’t able to do ANYTHING like I wanted to?
I once met a homeless man in Ann Arbor and I told him how my blind father worked for EDS. He was surprised. “Well, hell, if a blind man can get a job, I guess a black man can,” was what he said. If my father was not a genius and educated with a family, he could be homeless.
We’re not that different than THEY are. I’m just lucky. Lucky I have a family and friends who can support me. Lucky that I’m educated and come from a middle-class upbringing. Luckily I’m far away from being homeless.
But if I was homeless, would the things that bother me now bother me in the same way? Would I be so concerned about my weight if I was wondering where my next meal was coming from? Would I be so obsessed with finding a mate if I didn’t even have anything to call my own?
The answer is no.
I would be different. I would be more real. Life is about survival. If I was put into a situation where I had to survive or die, I hope I would survive. I hope I could make something out of myself.
Now I have practically everything. Why am I still scared that I can’t something out of myself? Because maybe I’m not real enough, maybe I need to realize that I need to learn how to survive without all the cushions I’m used to.
And maybe I should count my fucking lucky stars. Many great writers and artists were paupers while they were alive. I hope I’m not just a mediocre middle class writer, maybe that’s worse. But maybe greatness is not what I need to strive for, but simply to survive.
So if you have a home or not, give yourself a round of applause.
You are alive.