Being Homeless Taught Me Ten Important Truths
Having Nothing Can Be A Frightening Experience
Through divorce and mental health issues, I found myself alone and homeless about fifteen years ago. But that's another story for another time. For me, that experience changed my whole thinking. As the narrator in the movie Fight Club stated, “Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” Time suddenly did not work in the same way as it had before. It really did slow down and sped up as each day seemed like a never-ending nightmare.
1 — One of the most important lessons I learned was that there are good people in this world. Jon made sure I had a phone to keep in contact with my family. Mark made sure that he brought a sense of normalcy to my dark life whenever he could feed me a meal or take me to the movies. Lisa offered me a safe place to be whenever I needed it. Geno took me in and fed me for long periods of time. Dan offered me his empty basement in the wintertime. And my daughters gave me hope on the other end of the line. The number one trait they all showed? They did not make judgments no matter my situation and mental condition. I have never forgotten what they did for me. And never will.
2 — Homelessness taught me humility. I had never begged or asked for anything from a stranger on the streets throughout this eighteen-month period. My thoughts were, I deserved to be homeless, and I was not deserving of any assistance. My mental health at that time was not at its best. I finally realized just how low I had fallen when I saw a family in the park throw away pizza they had been eating. It took about twenty minutes of arguing with myself, but eventually, I walked slowly towards the trash can, opened the box, and took a bite of what was left. I have never felt so worthless.
3 — Homelessness taught me that my Faith or Religion did not care a jot about me. I found enough courage or desperation one snowy, cold evening to visit the local Bishop to ask for a blanket or coat and maybe some food. The Bishop refused to help and turned me back out into the blizzard. My Church was fine with taking my money in tithes and my time in service, and yet when the shoe was on the other foot, it turned me away.
4 — Homelessness taught me perseverance. I walked around the town center and surrounding areas every day, all day long. This was to occupy my active but dulled brain at that time and to find money on the sidewalks that people could not be bothered to pick up. If I walked long enough, I would find about a dollar a day. This was enough to buy a dollar burger at Macdonald's every day. It was a good place to be when it was either hot or cold outside.
5 — This experience taught me about the inequality of the American social services and medical systems. In short, they do not work, period. Unlike many other civilized countries globally, there are no resources easily available for poor people, addicted persons, or mental health patients. In the USA, jails and prisons have taken the place of hospitals and clinics. You have to deal with Police who are not trained to care for that segment of the population instead of doctors and nurses.
6 — Homelessness taught me loyalty. Oftentimes in life, we do not get what we want. Although I knew there was little to no chance of seeing my small children every day, I walked the eight miles each way just in the hope I could get a glimpse of them at school. I loved them, still do, and they were something I cared about so much and could hold onto.
7 — This dark period taught me that yesterday does not count for a damn thing. The society we live in reminds me of the words of comedian Eddie Murphy when he says, “What have you done lately? What have you done for me lately?” while discussing comedic relationships. It seems that the question is always, what can you do for me today and tomorrow? The banks want you when you have money but do not want you when you do not. The church wants you when you have money but do not when you do not. Your large group of friends wants you when you look and act like them but not so much when you do not.
8 — Homelessness taught me that humans control very little in their lives. The life most of us live is just an illusion. How safe are you really behind your doubled chained doors? You do realize that a door can be kicked in, right? You do realize the windows will not keep out a determined bad guy? You do realize anyone is only three months away from losing their home? Or that a severe medical issue can bankrupt you in the good ol’ USA?
9 — It certainly taught me that being so cold and hungry as you slept at night over a small brook upon a wooden pallet does not qualify you for help. If you contribute some way to the Capitalist pyramid, then maybe. However, if you are unable due to illness, mental health, inequality, age, etc., that is too bad. You do not exist in the richest country in the world.
10 — The greatest thing I learned was that a broken heart could be healed. And along with it your body and mind. It might take the help of a therapist and a good doctor with sensible medications, but there is a way back from the darkness that once enveloped you.
“It’s Only After We’ve Lost Everything That We’re Free To Do Anything.” — Fight Club.
© Stephen G. Arrowsmith 2021
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