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Today I Cried

September 22, 2010

I am a rather stoic person.  That is not to say I am not emotional.  Not at all.  I just process internally.  I rarely cry and when I do it often startles me.  Certain things (mainly death, heart break and patriotic — not nationalistic — movies that pull at the heart strings) get me choked up and almost desire-some of crying — but very, very rarely do actual tears flow.  So today as I inched my way home along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (henceforth BWP) thinking over the events of my day and concluding with: today was a really good day, one can imagine my shock at the tears that immediately started flowing.

I cry so infrequently that I actually took off my sunglasses to look at my face in my rear view mirror.  I started laughing at the sight and soon the external display was passed and I wondered how that even happened.  A few minutes later the tears started again.

Various emotions and confusions come from the full events of my day.  Some plunge very deeply into uncomfortable territory.  Before I get into it, I must put a disclaimer that I intend to use this blog as an honest exploration of  very real thoughts and emotions.  To an extent political correctness has contributed in the positive, but the over cautiousness in speaking of ‘the-way-things-actually-are’ I feel is quite detrimental to progress.  Issues of the isms are spoken of in such PC terms that’s its as though they no longer exist.  We know they exist, because we still feel them within us, but we’re to act as though we went to bed and woke up to a new world order/thought.  Speaking of such things as race is not racism.  Communicating about race is incredibly important.  Communicating in general is incredibly important because it helps spread awareness and understanding.  We’ve been fed so many myths, so while speaking in PC terms underneath the myth is deeply imbedded in every aspect of our being.  The only way I see of combatting this is to forego a bit of political correctness and engage in those awkward and uncomfortable conversations with the people we hold the myths about.

Okay.  So that is that and now I proceed.  Today I had a good day.  On a few occasions I felt I knew what I was talking about, lessons were connecting, and I made a couple of connections.  My day started very early at Miriam’s Kitchen, an amazing organization that I hope to become more involved with.  At one point I was left alone with Steve (when referring to consumers I will not use real names in these blogs) and within a few seconds thought: Oh man!  A paranoid schizophrenic!  I have a feeling that I have been with paranoid schizophrenic’s before, but I can’t name any off the top of my head, so maybe my experience with paranoid schizophrenic’s come solely from literature (fiction, non-fiction, and academia) and movies.  I definitely had a: so this is what this is like feeling.  I was actually quite fascinated at the time, but once Steve and I had parted and time allowed the realities of the situation to sink in, I felt quite sad.  The delusions and paranoia.  My God.  He was an incredibly well-spoken and intelligent man in his late 40s or, more likely, early 50s.  I wonder how much of the past he spoke to was actually true.  What came first the illness or the circumstances?  At one point did he really have it as much together as he spoke of (a graduate of American University with a political job and a trust fund)?  Did it all spiral out of control because his company eliminated his position?  Hard to tell and it doesn’t really matter anyway.  What matters is the now.  And in the now Steve needs help.

Later in the day I went with one of my co-workers, Antwon, to pick up a consumer, Mick, who my coworker had been talking to outside MLK (a large library in downtown D.C. where many people who are homeless spend a good deal of time).  Antwon had told Mick he’d go get a car and come back down to get him, but in the meantime we had a team meeting so it had been about 90 minutes – two hours before we headed downtown to get Mick.  As Antwon and I were conversing about Mick at a red light Antwon looked out the window and said, Whoa!  There he is!  We pulled over and let Mick in the car.  He had been headed across town to Pathways (I wonder if he just got tired of waiting or if he thought we had forgotten about him?  I wonder what his emotions were walking to Pathways.  I know as I am headed to a place for the first time I am very anxiety — but that’s in terms of meeting a new friend or school or work or whatever.  How much more vulnerable must he have felt?).

My initial thought was: Oh.  He’s white.  I had just assumed he would be black/African-American (this is not meant as some overly PC gesture.  I am white and am fine with being called white. I know people who prefer to be referred to as black, some prefer African-American, some even prefer brown.  I can’t speak for that which I am not so for simplicity I am going to limit to black/African-American).  There were quite a few white people at Miriam’s — Steve is white — but the majority of those I see at Pathways are black/African-American.  I also fall into the trap of holding that stereotypical image in my head when I hear the word homeless.  I feel we all (or perhaps we all visual image types) do this with any stereotype — or word.  You hear a word and immediately the predominant image comes to mind.  For example, I do not like green apples and therefore never buy them.  When I hear the word apple, immediately the image of a Fuji or MacIntosh appears in my minds eye because those types of apples are the dominant in my life.  Anyway, on my drive home I was thinking about that as well as another race issue I will later address.

I engaged in conversation with Mick.  He is from Virginia, lived in NYC for ten years before moving back to Virginia and has been in D.C. for about a month.  He originally went up to NY to attend Columbia grad school for creative writing.  As soon as he said that my ears perked.  If his petite size, boyish big blue eyes, small-town trusting and polite demeanor, or his great kindness didn’t hook me (it did ), his writing background did.  My desire to publish is no secret.  One of my recent ideas deals with a collaboration with people who are homeless.  I hate the thought that my interest in issues of homelessness – or people – come from an exploitatory vein…I know it absolutely does not, but this is still a feeling I cannot shake. Especially in moments like the one I found myself in as I drove with Mick.

Back at Pathways Mick took a shower – his first since arriving in D.C. nearly a month ago.  When he was finished I filled out an assessment (my first) for him.  It’s basically to figure out what services can and should be provided and what options are available in terms of government benefits.  Some of the questions deal with mental illness (one asks point blank if you have one – a question most take as: you’re homeless so you must be off your rocker.  Those with experience in mental illness know that a lot of individuals suffering from mental illness refuse to admit they have a mental illness) and some consumers can get quite hot and heavy at this question.  We temporarily or permanently lose some due to this question.  I wasn’t too nervous about that kind of reaction because of my experience with Mick up until that point, but it is an incredibly awkward thing to ask someone you’ve just met if they have a mental illness.  Especially with all the power dynamics and vulnerability issues in play.

After the assessment Mick and I got into a conversation about music (keeping in mind that I change consumers names in my blog, can you take a guess at one of his favorite bands/musicians?).  Apparently Mick plays guitar and would really like to find some way play while here.  After a little while we wrapped up and Antwon and I drove him back to MLK.  He was showered, had clean clothes, a towel, a jacket, a list of places he could get breakfast, lunch, and dinner and two of Whitney’s brownie cakes in his belly.  And, perhaps more importantly, was linked up with Pathways and had engaged in interesting and in-depth conversation with two individuals treating him as a man and not an eye sore or something less than human.

It was a good day.

Yet, on my <long> drive home I found myself bawling.  I have not only an awareness but an understanding (I think something has to be a personal experience to use the word understanding…at least that is my current thought on the matter.  There is a reason underlying, to some extent, that thought that is less than philosophical, but it is how I am currently feeling for far more philosophical reasons too so I am going to go with it) of mental illness and loneliness.  Many people can slip into a psychotic episode and never return — but I am very aware of this and…I do not live in fear of this, but interacting with someone like Steve hits a little more home.  While an incredibly stable person, I do fear one day slipping into instability.  The loneliness and vulnerability — brought out that much more by Mick’s naive outlook (he kept speaking to how friendly D.C. was.  This is true.  But it is also not.  Mick is mainly in the downtown business district and upper N.W.  There are many not-so-friendly areas of D.C. only a wrong turn away.  As Antwon told me early: a pleasant looking man Antwon was working with spoke of how great a city D.C. is.  He too was mainly in the downtown area.  One day he ventured down the wrong street and his teeth are completely gone and his eye is bulging out of his head) and petite physical demeanor — is what has really been getting me as of late.  What a sad, frightening, and boring existence.  I love my solitude.  I love wandering the streets alone.  But not all the time.  Mick is doing this all the time.  Sure there’s a conversation here and there, but mainly it’s just you.  Night time must be especially lonely…and scary.  I’ve tried to sleep outdoors in parks or similar ‘open’ areas…it is not as peaceful as it might seem in one’s romanticized images.

I’m going to continue working with Mick this whole year.  I changed my days this week so I can accompany Antwon downtown to get Mick set up with food stamps.  As he doesn’t have any benefits and doesn’t really know D.C. I don’t know what he has been doing for food the past month and get trapped in an emotional hole when I stay at that thought too long….

Briefly, the other race issues I spoke of: the thought occurred to me that I felt more connected with Mick, the intelligent white man, than any other consumer I have thus far met.  I wonder how much race plays in to it.  I have definitely connected with others and had a nice afternoon with another consumer who is black/African-American.  It may be more of an issue with mental illness (Mick didn’t display any obvious symptoms but did say he has been diagnosed before and it is interesting that he just up and left Richmond to be homeless in D.C.).  I am not worried by these thoughts on race, I just find it a rather interesting thing to note and explore.  There is so much of interest and so many points to explore these days.  Some positive (the wealth of human connection) and some negative (there will always be poverty.  I can’t rescue people from loneliness.  So, what do I do?  How do I do it and find peace with it instead of crying?).

For now I will be happy that I am in a bed and, before I turn in, send out a little love and comfort into the Universe and hope it finds it’s way to Mick on this chilly and rainy night.  And on Friday I will see what Mick would like me to help him with and be thankful that I am in a position in which I can help him.  I am grateful for those entering my life because of Pathways.  My soul is getting enriched in ways some are never fortunate enough to experience.

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