Friday, October 20, 2006

fallen trees

The Original Perfect Post Awards


I make a point of not getting too political here. Not because I don't care, but because I care so very deeply that it can bring me to a rage. And rage, while a useful emotion in the right context, is better suited to action than words.

But then sometimes it all gets to be a bit too much.

I was interviewed on a local cable channel tonight for a segment on raising community awareness to local issues, and after sitting through the goofy sound check, the piped in music, and sitting idly while the host ran through his spin 5-6 times before it was "a take" I was asked about homelessness - and if it's getting any better.

Yes, I realize this was a dumb question, but I was not the one asking.

So my answer was, no, it's not. And it's not because federal minimum wage levels are nowhere near what they need to be, there is an utter lack of affordable child care, and millions of people have no health insurance. It is not better because there is not and will never be enough affordable housing, and it is not because the federal agenda is keen on slashing domestic policies/doling out special interest/keeping themselves rich as fast as it can.

One in six children in this country live below the poverty line. Some kids don't eat all day long, and more sleep in uninhabitable places at night. And yet this silent tragedy goes largely unnoticed. Sure, the holidays bring out some good philanthropy and cheer (those homeless folks LOVE to eat on Thanksgiving) but what about their hunger in February?

A friend of mine died recently. He had been on the streets for much of his life - in fact, when I first met him he was living under bridges feeding the trees. He had a strong relationship with trees and felt the need to provide for them - so after offering my own lunch to the branches of the oak he was under we were able to start a relationship. Through some small miracles I was eventually able to find him a place to live - and he lived there for a number of years - never solving his mental health issues, never "turning his life around" but living in a small place with food, and blankets, and heat. When he first moved in he invited me over and he said that he had never had a place to call home before, and that he could die right now and feel like he had fully lived. Just because he had a home of his own.

This man taught me a lot over the years through his goodness and simple grace. And his incredibly curious and photogenic mind. I loved this man in a way that I haven't loved many others.

Not too long ago he died in his sleep. I'll never know how, as indigent autopsies are not a priority. So when I got the call that he was found dead, I asked the person overseeing the complex to not call the police until I arrived (they tend to muck things up and be very by the book about things like this). I wanted to have a quiet moment with him, because this man will not have a funeral. He will not have a marker of his life, or a legacy to leave to his children.

Instead, he simply went quietly into that goodnight. He was lying neatly into his bed, his hands folded under his head in a gesture of sleep, and if not for the absolute stillness I might have thought it was all a mistake.
He was only 37 years old, but life had not been kind to him, and it took it's toll.

I sat next to him and gently covered him with a blanket and asked the gods and the trees to bless him and keep him, this very good man with a very hard life. And a few of us were able to offer small murmurs to each other, for his neighbors are similar to him, and this is their future, and they know it. And so do we.

30 comments:

mrs. incredible - aka Tabba said...

Dear Jen. You moved me to silence. Once again.

I feel the same as you regarding politics. I get so enraged.
Although on a day-to-day basis you see more than I ever will & have more of a right to feel that way.

Have you thought about planting a tree in memory of him?
Really beautiful post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am constantly amazed by a world that can move us to equal amounts of beauty and heart wrenching pain. Helen Keller was right when she said we could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.

Thank you for sharing his story. Your simple acts of kindness certainy made his passage here easier.

Momish said...

I am so sorry about your friend. Your tribute to him in this post is beautiful. You are a beautiful person. It is raining here and grey and depressing. The trees are weighted down with the heavy wetness. It looks like they are sad and crying.

kittenpie said...

How wonderful for him to have someone who cared to see him for who he was in his life.

And I like Mrs. Increidble's idea of pl;anting a tree for him - here sometimes trees in parks have small plaques noting that they were donated in memory of someone - that might be a wonderful way to give him that marker.

acumamakiki said...

I don't know what to say except rest in peace sweet tree-loving man. This post brought tears to my eyes and sometimes this life and world can wear me down.
It's so easy for most people to not be aware of the homeless population unless you've lived or spent any length of time in the Bay Area. My last apartment in SF was on Sutter between Taylor and Jones and just down the street, is the Tenderloin. That is an area that never lets you forget, burns an image of destitution and rawness into your retinas. I'm glad there are people like you Jen, that are trying to help and making a difference. Thank you for sharing this story.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. Thank you.

daufiero said...

Jen, what a sad and beautiful post. As well as many preceding it. I lost myself here in your blog this morning and just realized I have to let the dog in out of the rain and go do the school pick up.

(I'm so glad I found you again. I've got you in my feeds now. No more catch up.)

ewe are here said...

zktI'm sorry about your friend. It's clear that you feel honored to have known him, but know that he was lucky to have you in your life as well.

And like Mrs Incredible suggests, perhaps a tree in his honor?

Mary P. said...

Lovely post; lovely tribute to a friend. How fitting that you were able to arrange that his friends spend time alone with him quietly.

crazymumma said...

sigh. beautiful jen. what an elegy.
I am prompted to ask if you might ever think of planting a tree while thinking of him. just a thought.

We are so lucky to have a roof over our heads, food to eat, a safe place to sleep.

I hope your voice was heard by many and that it will move some to do some equally beautful work.

metro mama said...

There is a lot of homelessness here too. And many working poor. It's heartbreaking.

ECR said...

There are so many different threads here and I wish I could know more about all of them. Still, your post says so much.

Joker The Lurcher said...

this moved me hugely. we learn from people like your friend.

Joker The Lurcher said...

ps. i read the other posts afterwards. i planted a tree with the leftovers of my mum's pension money after she died. she had bright red hair so i planted a red oak which has leaves that colour in the autumn.

Lucia said...

There are times the universe puts us in the right place at the right time. You were blessed with being able to help your friend find housing. There are so many things wrong in the world, but this, this was a moment of rightness.

J Fife said...

Offering your own lunch to one of his trees - what a beautiful gesture. You've given me chills...

Deb said...

You gave this man such a precious gift, Jen. What an amazing person you....I cannot find words to describe how I am moved by this. Very VERY few human beings could have done for him what you did Jen, and he knew it wherever he is now.
Thank you. with all of my heart and soul I thank you for this.

KC said...

What a powerful and thoughtful post. Lately, I've been thinking alot about one of my closest patients who died, someone that I invited to my wedding but he was too sick to make it. This post makes me want to write about him too. Thank you.

mad_hatter said...

I hope you told his story on the cable channel b/c people need to hear it. I understand if you kept it private, kept it sacred.

Another beautifully written, stunning, and meaningful post.

Anonymous said...

...and the trees to bless him and keep him

Jen, I think you need love too. I love you for sharing.

lildb said...

I think of my brother, and that he is almost the age of the man in your tale. and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work that you do.

sincerely.

michele said...

I saw your comment on the Blogging Chicks metablog. If you want to join the blogroll, email me so I can send you the code.

PunditMom said...

This was a lovely post and it sounds like you were a wonderful and dedicated friend to someone who probably did not have many friends.

Thank you for sharing this and I will keep him and you in my thoughts.

Lillithmother said...

*hugs Jen* Thank you for telling us...what a gift your relationship with this soul...

Anonymous said...

That's so incredibly sad. Thanks for sharing.

Monica said...

This was a lovely tribute to your friend. I can certainly understand and respect your feelings about politics and I idenitified immediately with the part about rage. I've become somewhat political myself lately because of PTSD in war veterans. I watched a beautiful young man with dreams and hopes and bravery and charisma go to war and come back with nightmares and memories. My son.

Thank you for sharing your friend's story. I found you today by way of the Perfect Post award so I hope I'm not stepping on toes but please know your friend now has a beautiful home in Heaven. That's my belief.

RLGelber said...

Indeed a beautiful post! I'm sorry about your friend.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I am so moved by your friend's story and by your actions in making his life and death more meaningful. Thank you for sharing.

cafediva@mac.com said...

I found you from Jenny at Mama Drama.

WOW.

Thank you for writing this.

I was an emergency room nurse for several years. I, too, developed relationships with "my people" who would come to the ER with various complaints just because they were hungry or wanted a safe/warm/dry place to sleep at night.

And I, too, got my heart broken a time or three.

I totally support your crusade. The lack of health care, especially mental health care, in this country is woefully inadequate.

I hope that everyone who reads your beautiful words is moved to do what they can.

Thank you, again.

Juliness said...

Breathtakingly beautiful tribute. Thank you for reminding me of the value of life no matter what the circumstances we live in.

Here via Jenny of Mama Drama, but I'll be back on my own!