I'm blogging from ISTE, which I'll talk more about in a bit (maybe after a break?), along with an attempt at explaining (or at least giving some pointers/links) the sporadic, disjointed, and whatever else path that this blog has taken, for folks who just arrive.
And I really DO want to blog about ISTE. It'll help give a picture of what's happening to the folks at school who sent me (though I probably won't give the direct link!) … it'll help me retain and process all that I experience, learn, and imagine … it'll help me connect more with people I meet here (hopefully!), as well as (even more hopefully!!!) reconnect with my BlogWorld from “before” --- I've really felt that hole at times. I know “Educational Technology Training” and “Nun Myth Dispelling” don't really overlap, and wondered if I should start anew once more but … as always … I didn't get around to it. I don't see myself turning “All Teacher, All The Time”, so who knows what direction this will take. I just really hope it takes SOME direction, as opposed to the continued inertia of stagnation.
But first … the realization I had walking back to the hotel from tonight's bowling session that, once it hit me, I couldn't stop thinking about.
I've forgotten about the homeless.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know there are people who are homeless. I do my best to get my students to realize that “The homeless are people too,” to get them to at least think about trying to help them. I get that. Heck, periodically I even see some guy standing at the exit ramp from the Watterson Expressway, with a little cardboard sign.
But that's it.
Please understand. I grew up in suburban Maryland. A standard Sunday afternoon in my family growing up was packing a picnic lunch and heading “Downtown” (Washington, DC) for a trip to the zoo, or one of the museums (most often either Natural History or Air & Space), or any number of the free outdoor concerts by the National Symphony or the service bands. As I got older and went downtown, I was more and more struck by the homelessness I saw. Here we were, in the capital of the world's most wealthy and prosperous nation (at least at the time) … and yet you have all these people living in the street. For one of the inaugurations, in fact, they had some overnight shelters remain open during the day and did some creative busing so that the world wouldn't see this dirty little side of DC.
But then I moved away. I don't go “Downtown” anymore, so I don't see it. And while yes, I know, Louisville has a sizable homeless population, it “looks” different. It's not as obvious, and my paths don't cross into the areas where perhaps they are more obvious. So I can remain oblivious.
You can't miss it here, though. And I'm not saying this as anything against San Diego, because I know it's everywhere; although (at the risk of sounding horrifically politically incorrect in oh-so-many awful ways) I'm guessing San Diego's probably a decent place to be homeless in – at least the climate's much more cooperative. But it's just been a long time since I've seen it in this way. And I have almost a week of continuing to see it in this way.
Walking to my hotel from the airport on a beautiful sunshine-filled Friday afternoon, I the van for the San Diego Police Homeless Outreach Team; a little further on I saw a park where several seemingly-homeless folks were just kind of hanging out – some napping, others “relaxing” in the grass … just enjoying the nice day, if it weren't for the collection of belongings nearby. Down by the marina, the walk was almost lined with people sitting with cups for change nearby – some with cardboard signs, some drumming, some just sitting in their wheelchairs. There were also a couple tables of various crafts and jewelry, which I ignored until I saw the sign about S.H.O.P. Until You D.R.O.P.; I read that while the man at that table shared a little of his story with some woman, and explain how every piece is unique, since he just uses whatever he can find. There was another man there making very cool palm creations. He had a huge poster describing what he was doing, but it didn't feel right for me to take a photo of it or him, but when a pigeon began exploring his work … I couldn't resist.
I went across to Coronado Island, repeatedly taking the … ahh … “scenic” route; upon getting back to the ferry, I was so beat and tuckered that I had even put my camera away (those of you that know me know what an absolute heresy that is. ESPECIALLY if I'm giving up shots of the lit-up dusky San Diego skyline! But I digress.). I stopped and picked up a few snacks for the conference, and got take-out from a barbeque place right on the landing to eat on the ride back; all I kept thinking was how chilly it was and how “done” I was. Walking back to the hotel, I saw a older man sitting on a bench, relatively near a tarp full of stuff. I turned back around to offer him the corn on the cob from my dinner – it was packaged separately, I had been too full to eat it, SOMEONE should get some use out of it. He said no, and after I tried a few more times, I gave up. As I turned back towards the hotel and put the corn back in my Albertson's bag, I had two thoughts: (1) Who am I to assume and/or insist that he eat my rejected cold corn on the cob? (2) How exactly did this look to him – some random woman rummaging through a translucent grocery bag with cereal and pretzels to dig out some Styrofoam Box of Mystery, only to force the least favored and most questionable upon him? What in the world was I thinking?!?!?
This afternoon, there was someone asleep in one of the corners of the convention center outdoor balcony; tonight, there were two folks sleeping on the concrete next to last night's Bench of Utter Insensitivity. In between there were all sorts of other people, talking with one another or perhaps, if alone, asking quietly for change.
Which … I pretended not to hear, and kept walking.
Now, I'm not one of those people who is afraid of the homeless (other than basic safety issues of a single woman walking in a foreign city in the evening, which transcend residential status), nor do I espouse the pseudo-moral question of “Well, what is (s)he going to do with the money?” I don't remember where, but a while back I came across someone addressing the issue of “They're just going to use it on alcohol.” They used the example of your stereotypical businessman: “You comes home, you've had a rough day – what's one of the first things that you do? That's right, you pour yourself a drink to unwind, take the edge off.” While I am not making a statement on addictions, or proper financial management, or anything else, I did find it to be very interesting parallel food for thought – who are you to say that this person shouldn't be able to unwind from what was quite possibly a FAR more rough day than you? Likewise, when I was helping with youth ministry in Maryland, and we were doing a day-long sensitivity training with the kids before going to Appalachia. One piece that go addressed was the fact that many of the houses we would be going to repair might have satellite dishes, XBoxes, etc. While it may seem like very skewed priorities, this might be the family's best attempt at giving the kids a “normal” childhood; OR … while the $50/month for DishTV might seem extravagant, putting that $50 towards home repair instead isn't even a half of a drop in the bucket.
The lesson of that day? Who are we to judge?
OK, so I can't play human ATM to every cardboard sign I see, but to continue the feigned blindness? Sure, sometimes I give a slight smile, a nod, a look … but a big grin doesn't necessarily feel right. “Have a nice day”? “Take care”? How does that not rub it in with hypocrisy? It's like the passage from James, asking what good it is simply to tell someone “Go in peace, keep warm, and be fed” when they have no food or clothing, without helping them. It is not only pointless; it can be condescending, patronizing.
And yet … who am I to judge their alleged misery, too? Who am I to say that they're NOT “having a good day”? Down by the marina, there was all sorts of conversation and camaraderie. Granted, much of it seemed to revolve around improper treatment by various shop clerks, but still – it was a community. How many of those “more fortunate” have that community with the people they encounter? Who am I to say how they can spend what few dollars they have?
Who am I to say they want cold corn on the cob?
And yet, I will continue to walk past them. Every day, for the next five days. Several times a day, in fact. And I will walk past them with my backpack on my back ... with my Nikon D-60, 18-55mm lens, and 70-300 mm zoom lens … with my (school-loaned) netbook and (school-loaned) iPad … with my Android smartphone … with my cereal & pretzel snacks … with my boss's credit card … with my own debit and credit cards, car insurance, and everything else that makes me “normal” and “acceptable” to the world. How can I NOT judge, NOT feel “better than”? How can I NOT feel awkward, not feel guilty for having had better circumstances?
As true as it is … somehow I'm not sure they'd buy the standard line:
IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME.