Saturday, September 24, 2005
Every minister (and person with political influence) needs to do this
colors: red, black, white
mood: DEVASTATED and exhausted
thoughts: today, several fellow seminarians and i went to downtown san francisco as part of a saturday intensive class, and did the faithful fools street retreat, which was an entirely singular experience. it destroyed me, and broke my heart. it also grounded me in a realization that i hadn't had before. i mean i knew that the plight of the homeless and inner city poor was bad, but i didn't fully realize (or have it be truly real to my senses) until today.
we walked for several hours in the most economically devastated square mile of downtown san francisco. as soon as we left the 'faithful fools' hq, we split up and walked through the streets by ourselves -- a little money in our pockets for food (I had $5 and some change), no mobile phones, no pda, just ourselves and clothes on our backs -- to experience a bit of what life among the homeless is really like, or what it would be like to be homeless. the first thing i saw after less than a minute from splitting off from the group was a very large pool of dried human blood on the sidewalk and a large amount of blood spattered against the building right next to the pool. after that, i met a man named jerome and he started telling me his story and we talked for about five minutes, and he told me that he'd had 50+ felonies stacked up against him, which were just numbers to inflate his record, and shortly after that, it turned into him wanting to sell me something, using drug terms i couldn't understand. and when i refused his offer, he wanted me to give him any money i could spare. i had my five dollar bill for emergency, and i really didn't feel it would be appropriate for me to act as if i were homeless and then give my spare change away, so i said i didn't have any money for him. then he said that he was working for somebody and had to keep selling to make his quota so i just moved along.
within a minute, i saw a police car stop next to a sidewalk, and there was a man laying there (I thought he was just sleeping like most of the other people on the sidewalks, but alas he was not). one of the officers got out and walked over to him and kind of kicked at him -- not hard, but just enough to rouse him. he flipped over and started swinging around and kicking spasmodically, then the officers helped him to his feet and he could barely stand and was obviously wasted and i'm not sure what drugs it was a result of; if i had to guess, i'd say meth or crack, but i don't know that that would be accurate. he was totally incoherent and standing with the nuttiest posture. the part that brought it most home, the saddest, shocking part, was that he had tattoos and looked like the type of person i could've been dancing with at lollapalooza or some rock festival a couple years ago, but now he was here, desperate and entirely incapacitated.
i walked a bit further, down to mcallister street, and ran into a man who was selling 'street spirit' newspaper, which is a familiar sight sold by people without homes, who live in the bay area. after a minute of talking with him, i realized he was the real deal. his name was gregory. he was displaced from louisiana, was missing his left eye, and had a leg that was seriously fucked up (his ankle was swollen up to about the size of a grapefruit all the way up to his calf. he had no health insurance, no connections yet, and was obviously a good man (i don't mean to judge, but he was). here was a man who had lived and prayed the bible every day, had lived in new orleans his whole life, and now was here, with no means of support. he asked me for money, and to me, $1 for a copy of 'street spirit' didn't seem at all right. even though i had planned to keep it for an 'emergency,' i offered him my $5 and he said he needed $20, and i said i couldn't do it because i was a student. he didn't have to do much more than say 'you're a student???' and then look at me squarely before i realized the idiocy of my excuse.
i'm a student, i don't have money to spare. fuck! i do have some money. way more than he did, and he needed it! i told him i'd go to the cash machine and come back with another $20. he said he couldn't trust that, since he'd already had people just leave when they said that. from past experiences, i felt like i was being taken, but in this current experience with this man in this condition, i knew i wasn't. so he and i walked and talked for a couple blocks while we walked to the cash machine. i had a little difficulty working the cash machine, since the arrows didn't really line up with the buttons (i'm tall, so they seem to be offset by one), and i accidentally pushed Espanol as my language, which usually i'm functionally conversant in, but not with the wording on this cash machine wizard, not today. so i was able to cancel out and do the english route. when it said "do you want your receipt?" the choices were "sure" and "no". no wonder i couldn't understand the spanish...
anyway, he shared some big knowledge with me as well, from his christian experiences growing up in new orleans:
- HOLY BIBLE stands for He.Only.Left.You.Basic.Instructions.Before.Leaving.Earth
- You go ahead and be the most righteous man you can. Here's a story: The devil calls up to God and says "Would you please take this guy up to you? He's been pissing me off so much that he's putting out all my fires!" (He made sure I noted that the devil has to make the request of God, he doesn't just make demands from him. Note who's in control.)
- You do God's work. It isn't so easy, but it ain't that difficult either.
- I asked him what he meant by "it"
- He said "How do you spell it?"
- I said "I-T?"
- He said, "See it ain't that difficult, is it?" and smiled.
after that, i just walked around and around and around, probably put on ten miles walking up and down the grid. while walking, at one point, i felt so crushed by the reality of the scene that i just had to stop on the sidewalk and start chanting "om namah shivaya gurave..." (mentioned a few posts back) on the sidewalk to help me center, and that's when i heard gregory calling me from about half a block away, though i had my eyes closed trying to chant, he kept calling until i realized that it wasn't just more random shouting (there was a lot of shouting in those neighborhoods). we talked a bit more (including his story about pissing off the devil) and after shaking hands, i taught him namaste and the meaning of it. upon walking away from that exchange, i had a realization that the "the divine in me greets the divine in you as one in the same" in namaste is one in the same as "the divine in me greets the divine in god/allah/great-spirit/creator as one in the same" and that the creator creates through me/us.
(i have a whole bunch more to tell, but my wife is telling me i need to come to bed or i'm going to miss church again tomorrrow morning). my next post will be a continuation of this story. (actually, i should be reading my malcolm x autobiography for one of my classes, but i feel compelled to wriite this story down while its fresh to me)
after today, starpower reports totally discontinued. they were an unnecessary diversion and irrelevant. if i'm feeling good or crappy or whatever, i'll just report it in text. all love to thurston.
what holds us separate?
what keeps us separated?
as we walk the streets
what still connects us?
Link of the day: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/04/24/INGAACD39U1.DTL http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage
go get your livin',
[edit: this story continues with this post.]