Sunday, February 22, 2004

I haven't updated in some time.

A few days ago, I saw something very interesting. There were three Native men. One was around fifty or so, the next was in his late thirties/early forties and the last was a young man in his twenties.

They appeared to be homeless and one of them was either drunk or had suffered a stroke. The thing that struck me about these three men was their easy companionship. They spoke to one another with genuine affection and closeness. They were obviously good friends. This was not all. They were also very happy and made small jokes with each other the way a close family will. Despite their poverty, they were very happy. I then noticed the people around them. Regular people going about their regular business and not one of them had a smile on their face. I noticed another thing.

All the "regular" people completely ignored the presence of these three Native men. They talked amongst themselves, made eye contact with one another, but when it came to these three homeless fellows, they blanked them out completely. Eyes would glaze over as they passed the spot the men occupied. It was as if these men did not exist! A complete and total negation of their very presence as human beings. It was a bizarre situation and I might have despaired had not one woman restored my hope and faith.

She was wearing badges and buttons of all sorts that encouraged one to Save the Environment or Read Chomsky, etcetera. She gave one of the men, who was carrying a bag of bottles (dripping mixed fluid out the bottom of the torn plastic bag), a bottle and another plastic bag.

"For your recycling," she said with a genuine smile. She made eye contact and the men, already happy, smiled even larger smiles and said thank you.

That is all I saw as it was time for me to move on.

I could not help but think about how similar the young man looked to my older brother, and by extension, a little like me. I was not unhappy, in fact - I felt a little warm glow inside my chest, and a small phrase came to mind:

There but but by the grace of God go I.

I am truly blessed to have parents who were able to break the cycle of alcoholism and defeatism passed down from their parents and so on. I have not had to deal with the repercussions such a life would have had on my perception of choices available to me. I am very lucky to have had a mother who encouraged me and taught me to be myself and to feel that I had every right in this society enjoyed by any other man.

Some people would say that the poverty of my upbringing would qualify my family as "trash". White, brown or otherwise. I see it in a much different light.

My parents sacrificed much and worked very hard to give my siblings and I every advantage and opportunity they could. Their dreams of travel and foreign sunsets, new cars, a big house were traded in so that they could provide us with the education and mentality to pursue our own dreams. On our own terms. Their joy is in seeing us become the people we are.

We never lacked for the things we needed. My parents saved all the time for us. How many times did they skip a much needed romantic dinner for themselves, or glue a sole back on to a shoe that was about to collapse anyway, in order to save enough money to buy me sketch pads and pencils? Paints and canvasses? The books I could not get enough of? And I was just one of five children.

I am very lucky that my parents were so brave and so giving. In thinking these things, I feel sorrow for the happy young man I saw. But there is hope. Perhaps he will grow to be a parent who will sacrifice for his own children. Perhaps his great joy will be in giving pride and strength to the family he helps nurture.

I sure hope so.

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