Every week, I make the trek to cross the river and walk in the shadow of skyscrapers in Portland, Oregon’s southwest downtown neighborhood.
This area of town is grungy. A high concentration of the city’s homeless services and homeless population hang out here. Streets are narrower and dirtier. Public transit brings unregulated foot traffic to the sidewalks. Tourists ravage the place. Some of the street corners have street musicians and most of the rest have homeless people sitting, standing, hoping for someone to be generous, or to even notice them at all.
One time, late in the afternoon, I gave a dollar to an old and crusty veteran in a wheel chair. This was after I walked by him and tried to ignore him. He said I was the first person all day who had even noticed him.
That really bothered me.
How did we as a society get to a point where homeless and injured people with no resources just blend into the scenery? How did I get to a point where I could see it and try not to?
I wish I could do something to impact the plight of the homeless person. I wish I could give them all housing, or at least buy them all dinner. I wish the economy were not so crushing. I with drugs and alcohol did not destroy so many lives. I wish all parents loved their children and no one had to run away. I wish I could make a difference.
Do I say anything about this? Not really. Not anywhere but here. Why not? Because people see that I feel distressed and treat my feelings like the problem. They tell me not to worry about them homeless people, and particularly not to worry about myself for not being more engaged, more involved, more caring. They’ll point out how I’m already a generous person, how I have different responsibilities, different scopes of influence. They’ll compliment my character or dwell on all the other things I do so that I don’t have to feel bad about the misfortune of other human beings.
But my feelings are not the problem here.
Today I went to Starbucks and ordered an Iced Grande No-Classic Light-Ice Green Tea Lemonade. (Yes, I’m a former partner) And this is after stopping at the food carts for Falafel Saj.
Three dollars and twenty-five cents later, I watched in horror as the grumpy barista poured the tea and lemonade DIRECTLY into the cup, then drop a pathetic half-dozen ice cubes in, slap a lid on and slide my beverage across the counter. Without so much as eye contact, and in a thoroughly un-inspiring voice, she called out, “Green Tea Lemonade.”
She didn’t shake it.
It’s a shaken lemonade.
You’re supposed to shake it.
I like my drink shaken!
SHE DIDN’T SHAKE MY FUCKING BEVERAGE ON PURPOSE!!!
How did I get to a point where I think I have the right complain about proportions of tea and ice in an expensive indulgence that is meant to manage my ever present anxiety more than make any meaningful contribution to my health?
How many homeless, hungry and thirsty people did I pass on the way back to my car?
Oh, Lord, forgive me for my self-indulgence, and many I never be blind to the plight of Your people…