Enlighten: to furnish knowledge to; to give spiritual insight to. (Merriam-Webster)
This is one person’s way of enlightenment, guest blogger Tom Widdicombe.
Where is the fracture in the human family—rich or poor? There are the rich ones that get all the stuff and can be warm and eat a lot of nice food. Then there are the poor ones, who have varying degrees of nothing. There is a sort of violence here, that so many of us can live in luxury whilst some can’t afford their next meal. It is a hidden violence, but it is still vicious and clean like a knife.
Where does this fracture actually exist? I think it exists inside us. We can’t accept that we would allow this to happen, to allow our brothers and sisters to go without whilst we still want those things which make this so. When I spoke to Ricardo Almeida (a homeless man in Bristol [UK]) yesterday, I could feel an ancient guilt stirring in my soul. It didn’t seem to be completely mine, or completely his. It felt like a tear in the fabric of the human soul and I think it hit upon something far reaching—how we hate each other.
I’m reminded of a time as a child, living in Nicaragua, sitting in the car eating an ice-lolly. A group of “beggar boys” came to the car, and one asked me if they could have my ice-lolly. I really didn’t want to give this boy my ice-lolly. Then there was this hatred right there. I’m not sure if it was mine or his, but it was there. And I could feel his otherness.
This otherness represents the harshness of nature. The cold, the damp, the brutal winds—this is other to our comfort, our cities, or cups of tea, our warm baths. Then there are the deep forests. It’s scary to sit in a forest after dark. There is the creaking, squeaking, breaking and pattering, and only the faint flicker of moonlight. This otherness is our need for survival. It is a cold need, brutal. It kills.
So sitting with Ricardo Almeida, we shared a companionable conversation. I left him with a couple of notes to help him find a shelter. Yet a feeling was born in me which I’ve had playing in me since. It’s a feeling of injustice, of shame, of discomfort—but primarily a feeling of guilt. I loved this man, yet I couldn’t feel this love. I saw a companion in him, yet there was this dark cloud in my soul standing between us—something deep set, something I didn’t want to look at.
To think that a society could just allow people to live on the streets… Yet this is the way it is here: there are the “clean-standing, up-walking-in-the-street people.” Then there are the “dirty, sitting-on-the-floor people.”
We don’t want to talk to the “dirty-on-the floor people” because they represent parts of us we don’t want to look at. One of these parts is the part of us that hates civilisation—fitting in, doing what everyone does, suppressing our primal urges and our deeper inclinations—the part of us that gets excited when we hear about murders, or when our house burns down. It’s the part of us that cheats on our wives, steals wine, jumps off bridges—all these exciting and absurd things that we like to do.
The other part of us that the dirty people represent is the part of us that feels a sense of responsibility to others. We don’t want to look at that part because it could throw into question all the fun that we like to have, all our luxuries. They are fun, aren’t they?
But what we don’t want to look at is the underbelly of our fun. The underbelly to our overconsumption is starvation. The underbelly to our luxury is discomfort and pain.
We can pretend that we are separate and just enjoy ourselves at the expense of others, but I can’t escape this feeling that Ricardo Almeida lives inside of me as much as out there in the world. I can’t help but think that looking at the underbelly is exactly what we need to do to understand our overconsumption. We look at the underbelly to learn and to really feel what it means, not to feel guilty or to judge ourselves or others. We have to see the whole creature in order to learn how it functions. We have to see the whole creature to learn how to use it differently.
The whole creature of the human soul lives inside of us. It plays out in all of our greed, hatred, anger, condemnation, self-criticism. It plays out in our love, friendship, affinity, fun, creativity. If we deny any part of it, we deny a part of ourselves. If we deny any part of our fellow man, we deny a part of ourselves.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King, Jr
“Most people do not even have enough to live a balanced and harmonious life. So the more you want for yourself, the more you draw from the limited resources of the world and the more you deprive other people.”
“I used to spend a lotta time worryin’ that I was different from other people, even from other homeless folks. Then, after I met Miss Debbie and Mr. Ron, I worried that I was so different from them that we wadn’t ever gon’ have no kind a future. But I found out everybody’s different—the same kind of different as me. We’re all just regular folks walkin’ down the road God done set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin’ in between, this Earth ain’t no final restin’ place. So in a way, we is all homeless—just workin’ our way toward home.” Denver Moore, from Same Kind of Different as Me.
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