Exiles

Posted: April 20, 2007 in Acceptance, Discrimination, Friendship, Homelessness

Most mornings when I get on the bus, there is a woman named Kimberly who is already seated in one of the front seats. She boards at the stop in front of French Hospital. And each morning, when she sees us, she greets us with the kind of friendliness that comes from familiarity.

On those occasions when I board the bus without my significant other, Kimberly asks where "my other half is." If I shrug my shoulders and say I don’t know, Kimberly responds with an "Uh-Oh." And then we both end up laughing.  

Kimberly speaks a bit louder than most, but the homeless don’t mind. Nor do the bus drivers. You see, Kimberly is mentally disabled. She uses one of those fold up shopping carts, both to carry her things and as a sort of walker. And at one time or another, most of us have helped her on or off the bus with her cart.

Although she knows that most the riders that early in the morning are homeless, because of her disability she doesn’t see us the way a vast number of people do – in short, she doesn’t see us as "undesirable." Quite frankly, she is incapable of looking at another person with prejudice or discrimination.

All she knows and sees are faces that are a familiar part of the landscape of her life, just as she’s a part of our landscape. As a result, most of the homeless joke around with her; we ask her questions; she asks us questions; we talk about so many different things with each other, and so on.

The one thing that really bothers me is when any person boards the bus and sees Kimberly as a bother or a nuisance. As I’ve said, she does speak a bit more loudly than most. And there are times when she has a difficult time enunciating properly or being able to express her thoughts clearly. But she is a person who truly has a kind heart.

I’ve seen "regular" people who will roll their eyes, or have a look of disgust on their faces when she talks. These people try to ignore her as though she were unworthy of attention. Fortunately, to my knowledge, I’ve never known any of these "regular" people to have said anything unsavory to her. I pity the person who is unwise enough to do or say anything nasty to Kimberly in the presence of the homeless – that person would probably end up being bodily removed from the bus by any number of homeless.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the homeless that I know aren’t out looking for trouble – we’re just trying our best to survive in a world that doesn’t really seem to want us around. But if we were to see someone harassing Kimberly, we would most definitely intervene.

Perhaps it’s because most of us homeless feel like outcasts – exiles. And, perhaps this feeling makes us a bit more sensitive to the mistreatment of others who, often times are themselves seen as undesirables. That is why we’re as protective of Kimberly as we are.

It seems to me a sad thing that in this country – where all people are supposed to be equal – that there are those who see themselves as the aristocracy, and the rest of us as beneath them.

The Declaration of Independence says:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

What a happy day it will be when we all start to live up to that ideal…

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