In these times of economic melt-down, increasing unemployment and general hardship, we can learn a most enlightening lesson of wisdom, simplicity and fortitude from the following article ‘Thought’s of a homeless man’:
Fictional, but based on an actual conversation, with the interlocutor here speaking.
I’ve been homeless for ten years. I made some mistakes and I paid for them, but I lost all my friends, and my family refused to ever see me again. Jobs are scarce; I have no skills of value to anyone. But like Siddhartha in the Hesse novel, I can think, I can wait, I can fast. Many days I go hungry. But I have infinite patience. And I can think, but usually think myself into a self-righteous and ethical stalemate.
I decided to give up trying to make it, you know, to give up trying to be a square peg — or is it round? It was just too hard: trying to pay rent or a mortgage, trying to pay insurance and debts, trying to guess what pleases people.
I imagine average people would say that it is my fault, that I am dysfunctional. But wasn’t it Freud who said, “Who wants to be functional in a dysfunctional society?” Not just dysfunctional — modern society is basically sick. All the values are upside down. What is celebrated is greed, exploitation, violence. What is scorned is simplicity, nature, the slow, and the quiet.
Being homeless, I know this firsthand. Homelessness is being criminalized. Simplicity is being criminalized. The Native people of this continent didn’t have property deeds and legal documents, so everything was stolen from them, and when they insisted that this was their home and that everybody had free access to the water, the land, the forest — well, they were pushed out of the way, or were killed outright.
Today it’s average people, the poor people. The simple people. And many just don’t see how they are being abused by society. Homeless people are society’s front line, the soldiers that were put on the front line to die first. The average people, the wage slaves that carry on, they don’t realize what society has done to them. They don’t resent or understand, they just admire those who abuse them. They want to be rich, and they think the next lotto ticket is their pass to that stairway to heaven. John Steinbeck, the writer, called them “embarrassed millionaires.” That’s what they are, still groveling for a chance to sit at the boardroom table.
Of course, homeless people have a bad reputation. It’s true that many are alcoholics, addicts, mentally ill. They smell bad, wear ragged clothes, talk loudly to themselves. They scare me plenty of times when I’m out there. But that’s the difference: I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs. I have no behavior problems, travel with a clean kit, bathe and groom, and get clean thrift shop clothes when I need to. I stay in shelters and missions when I need to eat and rest, but I prefer being outdoors and on the road. I dumpster-dive for most food and sleep under the stars when I can, which is why I tend to stay in climates where there are beaches and woodlands. I don’t like to panhandle because then you immediately lose respect, and self-respect. I have money for small things because I will do odd jobs, though most people are suspicious of me. Many towns have centers where men gather waiting for a job. Once in a while I will get something, enough to keep me going, but I avoid groups. They can be dangerous to a peaceable person like me.