Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How can something so simple be so heartbreaking?

We've all done it.  A flick of our wrists, and a crumpled blanket or quilt is tossed into the air, and comes down smoothly over a bed.  In fact, I would bet that it's a gesture we hardly think about.

So why was it so heartbreaking when I watched a young man do this everyday task the other day?

He couldn't have been more than 22 or 23.  Maybe even younger. Just my son's age.  The multicolored quilt flew up and came down smoothly.  He adjusted the corners to straighten it out.  But it was not on a bed or even a couch. It was under the overpass of Highway 183 in Austin, Texas.

I sat at a stop light, watching this moment of ordinary human action.  And I cried.

As a mom, I cried for the young man, so recently someone's baby, someone's child.  What had happened in his few short years to lead him to bed down under an overpass instead of in a home?  Had he run from an abusive home?  Fled neglect?  Or was a mom or dad somewhere praying for his return, not knowing where their son might be...or even if he's alive?

As a person who has worked with the homeless for years, I cried for a country that leaves so many without even the basics of home or safety while others get rich, some even stashing their funds in Swiss bank accounts or off-shore banks to avoid paying their part to care for the rest of the nation's citizens.

I know there have always been homeless people.  But the face of homelessness has changed in recent years.  For the past decade, the image of the single man struggling with drug addiction or the lone woman fighting mental illness has been replaced with more and more average people who faced one tragedy, and lost everything.  Or the family who cannot overcome the barriers of rent deposits and transportation (and now, mandatory ID requirements that catch the poor in an endless loop of documents they cannot afford to acquire.) 

Or a young man, who once probably spread his quilt over a bed...but now beds down for the night on the concrete under an Austin highway.