In her poem “Tablets IV”, Dunya Mikhail writes:
The homeless are not afraid
to miss something.
What passes through their eyes
is how the clouds pass over the rushing cars,
the way pigeons miss some of the seeds
on the road and move away.
Yet only they know
what it means to have a home
and to return to it.
During my morning practice of reading and a savoring a poem, this stanza gave me pause. The “knowing” of the homeless Mikhail writes about is not a knowing we would envy. The homeless know what it means to have a home because they miss having one. But the “knowing” of this poem made me instantly grateful for my home, my life, the bed I sleep in each night.
I’ve been writing a lot this summer. I haven’t posted as much on this blog because I’ve been carefully crafting a book proposal that I’m hoping will turn into my first book. The book is about the “knowing” to which I have been led by people whose lives are wholly different than my own—prisoners, immigrants, LGBTQ+, persons of color. I should add the homeless. As a white woman of privilege I don’t know what their lives are like—in fact I am quite blind to and ignorant of this knowledge. But I can know. And I should. Because from knowing grows understanding. And understanding builds relationships. And when we are in relationship with each other we can begin to meet the needs of those who, for far too long, have been pushed aside by society.
[Feature Image: Patrick Marioné]
Today I prayed for the man sitting, cross-legged, his back against the street pole at the corner of Michigan and Ohio. He held a cardboard sign like all the other cardboard signs with “Help. Hungry. Homeless.” written in bold, black marker. My prayer began with the man but led me to those who had made me aware of the man as more than just another suffering human. Crouched around him in a semi-circle sat a curious group of youth whose adult did all the talking. “What did you do today?” “Where did you go?” I heard the questions but not the answers as more and more people gathered, waiting to cross the street.
With my eyes fixed on the signal that would tell me when to leave this scene behind, I prayed about the man’s shame, about his being exposed—even more—by this doting group of urban missionaries. And I prayed about the relief I felt he felt as he slipped a new pair of Thinsulate gloves over his stiff, cold fingers—a gift from the group who would soon disappear. And I prayed about the knowledge of poverty, the awareness, the street-weary experience the group craved because I knew that craving too. His story was all the homeless man had. But that was all they wanted. So I prayed for the man to hold on to his story and for the missionaries to move on and for the wind to not be so cold and for the universe to be more right and our problems to be less complex because I didn’t know what else to do.
[Feature Image: Kymberly Janisch]