Tuesday, August 15, 2006

human suffering

I've definitely witnessed an abnormal amount of suffering over the last decade. Working alongside the homeless, working in an office where people sleep - you see some incredible stuff. I've often chalked it up to the "crazy shit one sees when you work where people live". Lately, though, I've noticed my tolerance is going down. Since M came along, I can no longer watch the police wrench a child from a mother's arms and take him/her away. I can no longer watch babies being born in cars. I can no longer watch people eating out of the trash. I can no longer remain objective when children are bruised. Or hungry. Or both.

Pre-M, I had some issues. I was never able to stomach the elder homeless. Or the adult children who would drop them off at the shelter claiming there was no room for them at home. It broke my heart when grandparents died on the shelter floor, or when they had to take the bus to the county hospital to get chemo and then line back up for a nightly bed. Because these folks, see, these folks KNEW what life was like before they were homeless. They had full lives, they had children....they knew life before. Kids were totally different in my mind. I've probably seen a thousand homeless kids, and pre-M, my tolerance rode high. They are resilient, I thought, they don't know any different, they have their whole lives ahead of them....on and on. One more thing I thought I knew, but had no fucking clue what I was talking about.

And then all that changed. One of the first days back after maternity leave I was involved in a typical domestic violence situation. Good mom, troubled (shithead) dad, dad hits mom, kids see it, kids are in danger. Mom can't get rid of dad, he pays the rent. Bada bing, bada bang. But this time, when the police came, and insisted that the child needed to be removed, even though the Mom had finally thrown Dad out. They cornered mom and baby in my office and said "we need to remove your child from your home" Mom became hysterical, and internally I was a close second. All I could think is that these authorities, no matter how kind they may be, did not know what this child's favorite blanket was. Or how she was rocked to sleep at night. Or what being away from her mom would do to her. And as the mom literally threw herself at my feet screaming, "please don't let them take my baby" I was screaming right along with her. It took all I had not to grab the cop and join right in. I cried openly that day, and had trouble recognizing myself. I wasn't sure how to feel about that, but I knew it was serious. I am not the same person any more.

The right to a safe place to live should be a right we all can enjoy. It shouldn't necessarily come with qualifiers. People make mistakes, but 9 times out of 10, it's the system that has failed at some point. People get sick, people lose their jobs, people live check to check. The house of cards falls sometimes, even when you just barely bump into the table. The homeless are no different than I am, except I've not had my turn at the gates of hell just yet. They stand up, and try to forge on, and they have hope. They love their kids. They make bad choices. They are my heroes.

Morgan Spurlock did a great piece on this in his 30-days series about living on minimum wage. He really captured the desperation, the breakdown of the relationship, the stress and pressure of every single day. I often think that if I was in that situation, I'd end up getting high too.
But then it's oh so easy to blame the situation on the victim. If only they....

If only we.

1 comment:

lildb said...

Jen, man, I'm reading through your archives (for some reason, even though I should be working, and I'm not a college student so why the fuck am I procrastinating), and this post -- yeah. I LOVED that show. I wish it had kept on, but Morgan S brings too much truth to television. y'know the big guys were all, SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN.

sigh. truth - a rare commodity these days.