There is an unhoused man who lives in the woods on the edge of the downtown area in which I reside, and we have become buddies [I know his real name, but I'm going to call him Abe to protect his privacy]. When I'm downtown, I go searching for him, so that we can chat and catch up. The small town in which we live is very picturesque and unbelievably safe, and has a very quaint, thriving downtown area that is always teeming with people. Abe and I stroll the sidewalks, go to the park where we eat takeaway food or fruit from the farmer's market while sitting on a bench and watching the birds, and sometimes we just stand on a street corner and gab while watching everyone go about their day.
Abe and I make an unlikely pair and sometimes the passersby cast us some puzzling looks. He's African American (immigrated to America from Africa), walks with a limp (a result of a war wound sustained in Africa), and...well...looks a bit unkempt. I'm a well-groomed white woman who is ten years older than my friend. Although our outward appearances couldn't be more opposite, our values and the way we perceive the world are very similar.
One day, we were people-watching when my unhoused friend said to me, "I don't envy those people wearing their nice clothes and driving their luxury cars even though they currently have a lot more security than I do. What I find so interesting is that many of them seem to think that their world is far removed from mine, when in fact, everyone is just a couple of steps away from losing everything and ending up like me."
I told him that I could not agree more and that Covid caused some people to wake up and gain a similar insight, while others in our society still seem to (erroneously) think that they could never end up living in a homeless camp in the woods.
Metallic got it right about having an open mind when they sang:
Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters
My friend and I then discussed gratitude and how some days it's just so damn hard to be grateful for anything. It had rained all the night before, and he said that it was pretty miserable sleeping in the woods. My heart ached for him. I asked how I could help, aside from providing money and food. Interestingly, his response was that he understood that he was exactly where he was meant to be at this particular time and that he was learning some life lessons that obviously carried heavy consequences.
These Metallica lyrics popped into my head:
Life is ours, we live it our own way
All these words, I don't just say
And nothing else matters
I asked him to elaborate at which he chuckled and then stated that sometimes good people assume that everyone else is like them only to find that there are "some heavy dark energies" in this world...meaning there are some seriously evil people roaming the earth. I contemplated that coming from Africa this man's spiritual beliefs may encompass voodoo, white and black magic, etc., which are constructs that I have only a basic understanding.
As a sidebar here, this unhoused man is not an addict and appears to be bright, lucid, and highly emotionally intelligent. Also, Abe is not a panhandler. The first time I met him, I approached him and offered a takeaway carton of food and a wad of cash. He gratefully took the food, but said that he didn't want my money. I told him that it was a gift and that I would be highly offended otherwise. Surprisingly, he closed his eyes for several seconds and upon opening them somberly stated, "I come from a middle class background where everyone in my family works. I have always had a job, until recently, and have always taken pride in my work. In Africa, I was a soldier and medic, but here in the U.S. the only jobs I could get were janitorial. I took as much pride in being a janitor as I did in being a soldier. You don't have any idea how hard it is to take your money, but I also recognize that it is the difference between me eating and not eating, and that I can only live so long without food."
Pride versus survival.
If I found myself in his shoes, my reaction would be exactly the same.
Ironically, I was listening to a recording hosted by a spiritual healer on the drive home after this conversation with Abe, and she said something that almost caused me to drive the car off the road. She imparted that only low-vibrational people who have not self-actualized have no problem taking handouts from others and living off of the fruits of other people's labor, and also tend to be perfectly okay with not setting and reaching goals of their own. Essentially, these individuals are not truly independent and have a lot of evolving to do. Now, I don't think she was speaking about those who find themselves in challenging circumstances (like Abe) despite their efforts to improve their lives. Rather, this leader was highlighting those people who are inherently lazy and resistant to being self-sufficient, and thus suck energy and other resources from those around them.
My homeless friend Abe, who lives in the woods and who has to be cajoled into taking money, has a better understanding of how the world works than most "functioning" members of society.
Again, Metallica lyrics are apropos:
Never cared for what they say
Never cared for games they played
Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know
My hope is that Abe can pull himself out of his current situation, mostly because I know he so desperately wants to do so. In the interim, he lives in a community that cares and watches out for him. As he says, "If you've got to be homeless, this is the place to do it." I'm very proud to call Abe a friend and feel that he is a valuable member of my community from whom all of the residents and visitors could learn some valuable insights.