Friday, March 19, 2010
Compassion. Or "What You Wanna Give Me?"
Every single day, I am asked for money. The reasonings, the excuses, the methods of asking all vary widely, but a day never goes by without this happening. I live in the middle of a large city that struggles mightily with homelessness, although, the cynic in me knows there are numerous shelters and outreach programs available here. There is free food all over this city, and the reason I go to the particular farmers market that I do is because at the end, they load up everything that's left and take it to homeless shelters.
Sometimes I think that it is so much easier to feel more compassion when you are young. I remember once, when I was here before, I saw an old homeless woman on the metro that looked so much like my grandmother that it took my breath away. She was sleeping, and on the way out, I tucked a $20 in her coat pocket. I used to hurt so badly to see them hurt.
I still cry when I see those damn animal shelter commercials on TV--you know the ones? Set to sad Sarah McLaughlin songs? I cry when I think about starving children that I somehow can't save yet. I can't watch movies where people are hit because I wince in pain myself.
My best friend noticed this about me sometime last year when something really violent was on TV in the background. No one was really watching it, the kids were all in there but it was not something they were even noticing. But I was getting so agitated that I kept turning the TV down (it was a scene of domestic violence) and I was starting to freak out. I told her I can't watch things like this because I feel it too deeply. It's not fiction to me-it brings back awful memories and it's also one of my worst qualities--I take on other people's pains. Even if they're not real.
I say all this as background as to why it concerns me a little bit that I can walk by homeless people every day and not feel a single bit of sadness.
I think it's because I'm just jaded. Living in DC, and working by the Capitol, I am constantly being hit up for something. Protestors set up shop right by where I work, and every single group that is for or against anything on earth, eventually comes to DC bearing pamphlets.
I have fliers shoved in my hands, posters waved in my face, screams echo (literally) as I get on and off the metro. Whether its pro-life or pro-choice or pro-war or pro-animals or pro-grass growing, I hear ALL about it.
Homeless people line the sidewalks as I walk, and I am asked for a dollar, five dollars, spare change, anything at all miss, can you spare some quarters for my breakfast?
Meanwhile, I'm having problems making my own ends meet. My co-workers tried to tell me that a bar cover the other day was just $15. I told them that I feel like I pay $15 around here just to walk down the fucking street. To buy a $8 turkey sandwich. To go home to pay thousands each month to live, eat and have heat.
I know I am lucky that I can afford this. But, am I obligated to keep giving and giving to those who are not? Is it even about luck?
I'm in such a pattern now that I recognize the same people every morning. There are the ones who are actively trying to get money by hustling; the ones who prop up signs and go to sleep. The ones who just lay there and don't even try.
The ones who pace and start screaming obsenities at the capitol building every now and then. Then again, that's most people in this town. I think I heard my boss doing the same thing from the conference room this morning.
My personal favorite the other day was this cocky young guy sitting on a corner with a cup (perfectly capable of doing anything he felt like doing), and he just said "What you wanna give me?"
Well holy shit. I almost turned and told him that I wanted to give him a punch in the face. But things like that? Never end well for young women.
But its things like this that make me jaded. An old man sits with his stuff outside in the same place every day. The other day, he was literally laying on the ground with his face in the gravel. We all kept walking. It was like no one saw him. When did I GET this way? When did people in such need become part of my daily scenery? It's like sometimes I look up and realize hey! There's the White House!
I don't know. It's such a fine line between who's hurting, who's hustling and who's just trying to make it to the next day. I feel like half the time, I fall into all three of these categories myself. I walk wearily beside them, hoping that they don't take my silence or blank looks as hate or contempt. It's just me, looking out for me.
It's a big scary world out there sometimes.