I saw an acquaintance today for the first time in a while. He is a homeless man who is frequently around a restaurant I like. In the acknowledgments for my novel, Purple Hearted Man, I wrote about him. It seems appropriate to post that here.
I need to thank the kids at Helping The Homeless Colorado (helpingthehomelessco.org), a non-profit organization in Colorado. I conceived the idea for this book in at the end of 2018 and early 2019 while I was writing Poet Of The Moon. Purple wouldn't leave me alone. He pestered me day and night. So, I did something unusual for me; I started a notebook before I had finished Poet Of The Moon. Then, in April 2019, I did some volunteer work for Helping the Homeless. I learned a lot during that time and through the experience Purple became even more important to me.
The experience opened my eyes to things I had been aware of but never really considered. In particular, I was moved by the number of homeless who noted invisibility as one of the difficulties of their situation. I had never considered it before, how we look through or past them as if they weren’t there.
Our society views homelessness as immoral, lacking character. We make a massive number of assumptions about them, most unfounded and not true. Purple's experience in this regard isn't unique. As many homeless would tell you, it is common.
Purple suffers from PTSD and a psychotic break. But that doesn't mean he isn't smart. I tried to portray him with as much intelligence and dignity as possible because our view of him, and homelessness in general, is warped by our assumptions. Our perception is also influenced by the way we have allowed people like him to be portrayed in the media and through misguided or hateful politicians. So, while he may be a bit crazy, his ideas have merit and in some respects he might be the most sane person in the book. For instance, money in America has always been God, all the way back to the Puritans and certainly through Joel Osteen and other current church leaders. Chris Lehmann's book, The Money Cult, lays out the argument for that fairly well. Purple isn't completely insane and his arguments have value, despite the flippant way most within the system would dismiss them.
There is a restaurant in my neighborhood I frequent. On occasion I see a few homeless people around. One day recently I happened to be walking in while one of them sat at an outside table. I had seen him around before. I smiled and said, "Great day to hang out. It's finally warm."
The man's face lit up and we exchanged a few words over the next minute. He was a Denver Broncos fan and his name was John D. Everything about his attitude changed because of that conversation. He smiled, had more energy and confidence and seemed to enjoy his day. But what I took away from the conversation was more about me. It's a simple thing to ask someone—anyone—how they are, or if they're a Broncos fan, or God forbid, a ManU fan, or converse on any range of topics. A little human contact and interaction goes a long way. Shame on me if I treat him, or anyone in his situation, as if he were invisible in the future; He isn’t and they aren’t. And if I know anything about being human it’s that little things can have a huge impact on someone. Half the battle most of us face on a daily basis revolves around feeling good about ourselves and who we are. The homeless shouldn’t have to add invisibility to those struggles.
It is said that the strength of a democracy isn't measured by how high its elite soar, or how strong the economy is, or a host of other measurements centered on wealth and opportunity and freedom. The strength of a democracy is found in how well the lowest of the low fare, how they are treated and whether or not they have a voice and a place. By those standards we are failing our ideals; And not just with the homeless. We ostracize anyone different. We keep people in internment camps and in cages and vilify them. We turn them into sub-human asterisks. As of this writing, seven children have died in those camps because we don't care enough to change the inhumane practices that are in place. That doesn’t speak to a healthy democracy.
We cut programs for the poor while cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations. We treat anyone outside the mainstream as modern day lepers. We allow a foreign power to influence and meddle in our elections. Those who benefit by ignoring the meddling simply turn away, as if democracy only matters when they are negatively impacted.
The rise of Trump has seen the reemergence of racism, religious bigotry and white nationalism in public. It was always there. It never went away, but for years—decades, even—we had shamed it into silence. We can all point a finger at what is wrong and needs to be fixed. But unless we start by pointing at the reflection in the mirror and demand change from him or her we miss the point about what a democracy is supposed to be. “We” is the operative word in the previous few sentences.
The democracy isn't healthy by any measure. And the One-Eyed God has become nefarious. Purple was right about that.
There are always a lot of people who help make a book happen. But the only acknowledgement that seems appropriate for this book are to John D. and the millions like him. Your struggle is our struggle.
It's a simple thing to acknowledge someone, to say hello or ask how they are doing. Or even just buy them a burrito. And in some cases it can go a long way toward changing their lives.
On the web: Jack McDaniel
From the category Homeless