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In the shadows, the weight is unbearable
Mar. 13, 2023 12:00 am
The darkness held shades of ever darker shadow, and the shadows streamed into the residence floor where the homeless men slept. The old man sat again like a stray cat perched by the window and he stared out the window. He was a single figure there, washed in the darkness. The lights were off except for a small waist high night light. He mumbled.
In that solitude was a loneliness and a sadness as if the shadow weighed something, like an economic slab of steel hovering and readied to crunch the spirit. Another figure sat in the dark, propped against a desk and was reading an old magazine by the shadows.
"You don't know me," the man at the window said, talking to himself.
"What did you say?" The man with the tattered magazine said.
Neither man had a job. The naysayers and blamers say it's because they don't look. "Plenty of jobs," the observers, awash in their sarcasm will say. But there are not lots of sustaining jobs to pay for rent or food or necessities. There is a sadness in that. A man works but in his labor cannot make the ends of that struggle pay for the costs of breathing.
The clothes a poor man wears are worn out like his spirit. He quits the colorful fashions of red and yellow and rainbow polo shirts. Some of this generation have never worn a brand name shirt. These are the things that wear at the psyche. The man in the window and the one at the desk and the others watching TV at the homeless shelter see the reality makeovers of faces, cars, houses and the brands carrying the fortunes of the young and the well heeled.
"What did you say?"
The refrain sounds like a scene in a prison movie where one man peers from his cell and wonders what's happening in the outer world.
The poor child lives with less hygiene for his being and his spirit. The messages the world brings are that you have to make it by yourself. The neighborhood's alleys are swamped by debris and broken bottles and even the helpers among the locals, the priests and social workers, use the label 'broken'. The poor child's health care, schools and security are all dramatically less. The chances are that a poor kid will repeat the story of the men in the darkness.
"They're broken," the pastor says and passes a few lines of Scripture.
He says "Don't forget! The lord is with you!"
It doesn't feel like that. The pastor's ally in the government is quoted as saying they're looking for answers.
If you spend a lifetime serving industry in a factory, in an office, in a restaurant, in a franchise, when you age and have changed jobs as the company left town and the industry dried up and the younger laborer came to compete, you are left alone, staring out a window, tied up by the nagging feeling — "What did you say?"
In those desolate spaces, it's as if the world has sent a jumble in the media web that is over us all, that the work ethic, honor, the dignity and sanctity of the Golden Rule are without meaningful virtue. The bleak house of hunger and homelessness is in shadow and darkness.
The news that income is better, than the class system has grown more equitable, always misses the swollen bellies of the children of the poor and their parents and the generations of them who will repeat this cycle. A willful ignorance of this pain that cannot be measured is an issue worth thinking about.
And in the thoughts that the poor men and women of homeless shelters, of living with nothing entertain, grows a solitary obsession, that one must think about enduring hardship because that is all life offers, every breath you take.
If you have losses that weigh more than your dreams, then something is wrong.
Tim Trenkle lives in Dubuque and has worked in a homeless shelter. He also taught in the community college system in Iowa.
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