I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.
Yes I would.
If I only could,
I surely would ~Paul Simon, from El Condor Pasa
As I pull up and park, “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” by the Hollies drifts out the speakers. Stopping his busy trash raking, he offers me an inquisitive-smiled greeting. Listening wholeheartedly as his verbal threads unwind, it’s easy to see myself as him, living in a van down by the river this holiday season. Son of a career military father, educated and expecting to do well. But after parents died unexpectedly the floor dropped out from under him. As attention deficit disorder got worse, he was prescribed evermore powerful meds and struggled with the side effects. The government denied his eligibility for assistance and survivor benefits despite branding him as “not all there.” Now he sees himself as a hustler, and needing to do so to survive. “As long as I do 50 percent, God does the other 50 percent”, he says. Together with his partner, who suffers from multiple personality disorder, they live off of $200 a month she gets for her disability meds. Occasionally they are able to find a day or odd job around town to buy food and heating fuel. Another van, parked next to them, takes refuge, and together they refer to themselves as “a vamily.” Looking out for each other’s basic human needs of survival.
Living is not easy being homeless around here, even with the luxury of being in a van down by the river. This river is dry without a foreseeable prospect to the end of drought. Others who would temporarily park along here have been unkind. Perhaps they are young partiers or rival campers who have thrown bottles at their vans. A few weeks back during the deep freeze, a fire was deliberately started at night in the grass next to the vehicle’s engine, which he fortunately noticed and stomped out in time before his van and the hillside went up in flames. Yet, despite the harassing, they endure, as options are limited. Several neighbors who live up the road are friendly and wave when they drive by. Some offer some food, water or money for gas. Others provided a shovel, rake and other tools which they now use to clean-up garbage along the road and dry tributaries. Making this place more beautiful is their way of giving something back while living on the edge. I’m touched inside, recognizing how we are of the same humanity. Their condition is not separate from mine. What simple twist of fate could literally have me here, too; spending holidays, and perhaps the rest of my days living in a van down by a dried up river?
The insight of inter-being will help remove discrimination, fear, and the dualistic way of thinking. We inter-are — even suffering and happiness inter-are — and that is why the insight of inter-being is the foundation of any kind of action that can bring peace and brotherhood, and help remove violence and despair. That insight is present in every great spiritual tradition. We need only to go home to our own tradition, and try to reveal that, to revive that. ~Thich Nhat Hanh