Last weekend I posted a link to a video on how being too connected in the virtual world is dehumanizing us in the real world. As one who hates cell phones and rarely use mine, I do look up and around me. I enjoy looking up at the sky each day and noting the stars at night. In public a sort of hobby of mine is watching people. People are endlessly fascinating. Last week I worked overnight shifts at my store to do some major resetting of shelves to a new lay-out. The McDonald’s nearby stays open 24/7 so I ordered a large cup of unsweetened iced tea (yes, a sacrilege here in the land of “sweet tea”) and prepared to read a book on my kindle tablet during my lunch hour at 2 am in the morning. Yes, yes, that sounds like it contradicts my cell phone assertion a few sentences ago, but bear with me as I go through another one of my stories.
I sat down with my iced tea fully intending to read, but an old woman sitting in a booth caught my attention, as she paged through an old dilapidated book, with yellowed pages, threadbare cloth cover and the binding so loose that the pages looked ready to fall out at the least draft. The book seemed in better shape than this thin old woman, with her shabby clothes, unkempt long hair largely hidden by a straw floppy hat she had pulled down to mask most of her face. All of the other patrons were co-workers of mine, yet none of them paid the least attention to this woman, but she piqued my curiosity. I wondered why on earth was she in McDonald’s in the wee hours of the morning.
A couple of days ago I noticed an old, dilapidated little white car pull into the parking lot at my store, as I had just gotten into my car to come home for lunch, which I do every day when I work my normal daytime shift. I come home, fix lunch for my husband, who is disabled, and make sure he’s set-up for the rest of the afternoon. He has hydrocephalus and the shunt in his brain helped slightly, but he walks with a walker and has significant short-term memory problems. Another story, but after over 24 years in the Army and being retired for over a decade, he’s still waiting to have his VA disability reevaluated. Personally, it sure feels like nothing with the VA moves much. The first go-around with this VA claim took two years and now that his condition is worse, well, this looks like it might take that long again.
But I digress, back to the old woman. So, this little car with the front bumper hanging on by a prayer caught my attention. Then I noticed that straw floppy hat and it all made sense. Her car, I noticed was piled full of stuff. She’s living out of her car. Her car has been in the same spot for two days now and when I came home for lunch a few minutes ago, she walked past me heading into the store, as I was heading to my car. She was wearing the same clothes and her ubiquitous hat. When I returned from my lunch hour she was heading out of the store, in a different set of clothes, with the same hat. I assumed she cleaned up and changed in the restroom. Of course, there’s probably a long pitiful story as to how she came to be living in her car and I’ve been weighing whether to try to help her. I failed miserably trying to help the young guy who was sleeping on the swing display on the patio at work late last summer. That I am hesitating even talking to this woman to find out her situation makes me feel guilty. A dozen easy excuses come to mind, like I have enough on my plate with my own problems, like what if she’s got mental health issues or an even more worrisome head issue to me – like head lice. What if her stuff has bed bugs – yes, these are the shallow thoughts that crossed my mind.
Knowing that the social services behemoth of both state and federal programs don’t work to effectively help people in need makes me wary. That young guy talked about being given lodging for a month under a homeless program, then being back on the street when his time was up. He said he was on a waiting list for housing. It’s like traveling in circles, one expert referring the hapless to another expert, on and on and on. The churches don’t do much either. One big dilapidated social welfare mess, with no comprehensive coordination to take these people by the hand and lead them to a self-sufficient existence.
So, here I was thinking, if I offer a helping hand, I am committed to share her problems as my own to a great degree. And the other part of me is anguishing that I haven’t already offered her a helping hand. When I left work today, she had a dilapidated sun shade up in the windshield and towels draped covering the front door windows, with the driver’s side window down. The backseat was piled high with stuff. It was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and she was in that car with one window rolled down and a towel blocking the air flow…
Look up, look down, look away – but I live in a small town, not a big urban area and I didn’t even think we had any homeless people here until last summer when Trey was sleeping on our swing display.