Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In the Lens

I was sitting in my Starbucks this morning, (I know strange huh?). So in walks a homeless guy, presumably in his early 40’s, though they typically look older than they really are. He lumbers over next to one of those small round tables sets his bag down in the corner and begins fumbling with the stuff in his pocket. He smells the aroma of the coffee store as He looks for change. Out comes some rolled up papers, a wrapper, and a crumpled up dollar bill. He sits down, then stands up and puts it all back into his pocket and heads for the bar. He comes back with nothing – no coffee. He goes to the front door and looks out as if he’s looking for someone. Then he picks up his white plastic bag, goes into the rest room, comes back out and heads to the door. As he walks past a crowd of people he doesn’t know, he waves a little – to look like he knew someone (?) or to be polite, and sauntered out the door leaving me there at my own little round table.

There I sat with my coffee, my little zippered bag, and my journal on the desk in front of me asking God what I’m seeing. I was feeling guilty because I should have got up and offered to buy him an Americano; feeling numb because the homeless are all too frequent these days, and feeling serious, compassion overload for this guy and others like him so that my heart freezes.

I realized that he and I were not as much different as society has made us (comfortably) think. With no disrespect or judgment about why he was in his plight, or if he was “all there,” in our human experience maybe things are really quite relative. Though we’re in different strata of society, something about which I really had no choice, he had a bag, and I had a bag – of things meaningful, necessary and transitory. I carry a backpack with a few books, my lighter, a few pens and my iPod. He carried a bag with maybe an extra shirt, a jacket, an old newspaper, some matches, a little flask of cheep wine, and a list of names and numbers; maybe even a map back home, if he remembered where that used to be or even cared.

We both recognize the levels, and that we’re always in ‘mixed company.’ Both of us want to fit in, and very often don’t. He in some circle - any circle - and me in another circle that I perceive as better than my own. We both wave at people we don’t know sometimes. He felt alone in the crowd, but did his best not to look like it. I sometimes feel the same. We both want to be known. He walked in a world where he went largely unnoticed, and did his best to act normal. I live in a world where many know me, but I don’t know what normal is anymore.

Oh sure, I have more stuff, which makes me no more important than him. I just have more to manage, more to repair and more to throw away. I have more access, more resources, and more influence. Or do I? I always evaluate things from my level of The Matrix, and he from his. He wants more, I want more. He’s attached to his stuff, and I to mine. He has insecurities and I have mine. He wants to feel, and I want to feel. He looks for meaning, and I look for significance. Like chasing the wind, right?

The strangest things happened that very moment. Starbucks Corp. sent a camera team in to the store to capture the action and interview some of the partners. I noticed all the baristas – save two - posture immediately to get in the path of the lens! ‘That’s it,’ says I: no matter who we are or into which strata of society we fit or don’t, or perceive we belong, or don’t - we ALL want to be in the lens. We all want to be noticed. We all want a crowd, and perceive that another crowd might be better than the one we now occupy. We really are alike after all.

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