Parallel Universes

Workout day 45, blog post day 26.

@postaday, #postaday2011

I didn’t fully grasp the concept of a parallel universe until I was in the military, which to me is all about a universe that exists outside the civilian scope of understanding. Military people depart civilian life and become part of a society, a force of energy, a community that can exist alone, but has managed to lock fibers with the real world.

When  you are in the military, the real world is not the military. When you are a child, the real world is when you finish school and get a job. When you earn a living on planet Earth, taking care of yourself, taking care of others, that’s the real world.

When you are homeless, you exist in another world, difficult, dangerous, demoralizing. And that’s for those who still have their wits about them. For those who do not, for those whose minds have deteriorated via organic dementia or drugs, their existence is squalid, and many don’t know how to connect.

A few times I’ve written here about the woman who lives behind the Buddhist temple close to where I work. She has been there for as long as I have been coming here, so I’m sure longer than that. Usually when I take the express bus, I try to transfer to a bus that allows me to come up the street to pass Starbucks for my morning fix. Today I needed to come down the street so I could see her, so I connected to a bus along King Street. A few weeks ago one of my colleagues asked if I had connected with the woman recently, and I had not. She had a dental kit she wanted me to pass along.

So today I did. She burrowed into the shelter of her big umbrella, surrounded by her carts filled with possessions, and burdened with plastic bags filled with plastic bottles and cans. Her universe is a fortress of refuse. For weeks at a time I could pass her on my way from the bus stop to work and we’d connect and share a smile. I’ve given her sunglasses when she’d been sitting there for weeks with a pair that had only one lense. And in the winter I’ve brought her a few sweaters. She smiles. She puts them on the wall. For weeks they’d sit there, unmoved, rained on. Lately, she’s dug into her cave, and she hasn’t wanted to connect. For days she had been worrying at the knots in her hair.

I wanted to say hello this morning, and she knew someone was there, but she keeps her head down. So I stuck the dental kit in a yoga mat she has and I hope she finds it. Maybe when she rolls over to McDonald’s to help herself to some soda she’ll see it. Or maybe not.

I am ashamed to say that I don’t really want to engage with her much more than I do. I am a coward, I don’t have the resources to rehabilitate her. I’ve seen others go to her and lay hands and pray for her while she just quietly sat there. I don’t know what language she speaks. When wild-eyed homeless men park around her for a few days, I worry about her, but that umbrella seems to keep them at bay.

We have to look out for each other, even those who are content to skirt the outer edges of the universe.