Lola Valley Park
There is a man living in the park across the road from my house. He spreads his tattered sleeping bag on the banks of the Rouge River, tucked in between the overgrown bushes and low lying tree branches. His rusty bicycle, propped against one of the oldest, biggest trees I’ve ever seen, has a wire basket on the front piled high with plastic grocery bags filled with whatever possessions he has managed to acumulate. During the daytime, I see him riding up and down the road, or parked at the gas station on the corner. Sometimes, he’s just sitting on the bench in the middle of the green, a couple of those plastic bags by his side, too precious to leave out of his sight for a moment.
I have to admit, he frightens me a little bit. I’ve tended to avoid walking the dogs down there now, since I’m know I’m sort of trespassing through his living room. But at the same time, he breaks my heart. We’ve had a very temperate fall, with dry conditions and mild temperatures – but this is late November in Michigan, and the weather is bound to change. What happens when the snowy days of December arrive? And the icy cold of January? The freezing rain we often get in February? That sleeping bag on the riverbank will be a horrible place.
Yes, I’m a little scared, a lot sad, and even more angry. While this man (and who knows how many hundreds more like him in cities and now in the suburbs) goes hungry and homeless, our government spends billions of dollars to finance a war that the majority of the America people now realize is a huge mistake. Every day, I hear stories of men and women who have lost jobs. I know of more than one middle class couple who have lost their home to foreclosure. And each day, prices for food, health care, and fuel rise even more. And now, to add insult to injury, we’re being bombarded with the media frenzy to buy! buy! buy! because we’re all just desperate for more sweaters, perfume, jewelry and televisions. AGHHH!
When I was a little girl, my grandmother’s home was located in the city, and her back yard faced an alleyway where “hoboes” sometimes gathered. Once in a while, they would come to her door, asking for food. She never turned them away, always finding some food in her pantry to pass along to them. I remember her telling me that you should always feed the hungry when they came to you – “You never know,” she’d tell me, stuffing a paper grocery sack with sandwiches and fruit, “one of them might be Jesus come back to earth.”
I think about that when I see my vagabond neighbor riding his bike down my street. I’m not a terribly religious person, but I believe the basic tenets of Christianity make a lot of sense. “Love your neighbor as yourself,”or “treat others as you would wish to be treated,” is advice that could only benefit the world in general if more people adhered to it. In this land of plenty, there shouldn’t be so many people who have nothing. There should be so much more wealth to spread around. My small efforts in donating to our church’s food bank, clothing drives, and Christmas gift giving programs, seem like such a tiny drop in this very huge bucket.
Normally, I don’t rant about social issues because I don’t feel well enough informed to share my opinion. But it doesn’t take great knowledge to know that people in middle class American suburbs should not be living out of bicycle baskets and sleeping in the park.
It really bothers me.