Monday, December 21, 2009

On Becoming Invisible

I had a taste yesterday of what it is like to be invisible - of what it must be like to be homeless - desperate - a person of no account.

I set out with a Subaru Outback packed to the gills with supplies for a week at the cabin. 12 year old grandson and dog traveling with me. Barely 20 miles into the 254 mile trip I noticed smoke coming through the passenger side vent and pulled into a gas station/convenience store lot in the incorporated area of Catalina. Didn't know it at the time but an axel boot had split and spewed grease into the engine. All I did know was that I wasn't going to head off into the boonies and risk being stranded miles from anywhere.

First call was to USAA for roadside assistance. No problem , help would be there within the hour. Second call was to my daughter - again no problem. She and her husband would go to my house, pick up another vehicle and drive that out and I'd simply switch vehicles and continue on my way. I had life-lines, cell phone, genuine connections. Not for a moment did I feel anything but a tad annoyed.

Murphy's law rarely works in anyone's favor! Tow truck arrived within 15 minutes and we were left with no choice but to empty the contents of the Subaru onto the side-walk. Three coolers, a case of wine, duffle-bags, dog food, assorted boxes of wrapped gifts, a large pine bough wreath, and a rather tatty collection of ski jackets and pants. I wasn't dressed in "go to church best" but was wearing black slacks and a casual jacket - not an "avert the eyes this person is suspect" look.

But avert their eyes was the norm for the 30 or so people in cars pulling into the gas station as we waited. It was obviously an unusual sight - dog, woman, child, and what could be taken for worldly belongings piled on a sidewalk on a bright, sunlit Sunday morning. And yet not one person, man or woman, stopped to ask if we needed assistance. Rather we got a quick furtive look, a ducking of head and moving away. In one instance I watched a man get out of his car and start towards us only to be called back by his wife and the very clear words "don't get involved". And these were people dressed in go to church best.

The experience made me acutely conscious of how we ignore what makes us uncomfortable. We'll drop the odd coin into the salvation Army collection boxes but it takes the saints of this world to roll up sleeves and volunteer to help. It also made me ache with pain for the people who really are dseperate on the sidewalks of our communities with nothing, without hope - how must they feel as the general population steps out of the way to avoid them, deliberately chooses not to see them.

My experience was minor - just a blip in a well organised plan - but coming as it did on the start of Christmas week - on a day when church sermons rang out with messages of giving, of kindness - I couldn't help but feel disheartened. One woman did stop - she called out of her car window - "hey, you guys want to sell anything?"

1 comment:

  1. Although it's easy to understand how disheartening that experience was, now you're richer for it. Your new ability to not only have sympathy for those less fortunate, but also to truly understand their experience is a far reaching lesson. And your understanding of your own abundance during the week of Christmas is such a blessing.

    Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday!



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