“What if we choose not to do the things we are supposed to do? The principal gain is a sense of an authentic act – and an authentic life. It may be a short one, but it is an authentic one, and that’s a lot better than those short lives full of boredom. The principal loss is security. Another is respect from the community. But you gain the respect of another community, the one that is worth having the respect of.”
~ Joseph Campbell
Since I made the decision two years ago to walk away from Babylon, consumerism, and society’s definition of success, I also walked away from a lot of security. In giving up a traditional job, I also gave up a traditional home. There were times when this decision felt very precarious to me, but I always landed in a comfortable place and had my very basic needs taken care of.
There was the beautiful home I was blessed to occupy in Granada for a time with my sister and a visiting friend, there are the small hotels and wellness centers full of beautiful artwork I’ve been lucky enough to care for and occupy, and there are the comfortable homes with loving families who have taken me in. In each moment, I’ve counted my blessings to awake in a dry, warm, comfortable and safe place.
Never before has the decision to walk away from the security of the American Dream felt so dangerous as these past few months traveling and working in the US. I’ve found myself sleeping in a tent (gifted to me by a wise friend), searching out inexpensive food options (much more difficult to find healthy and inexpensive here than it was in Central America,) and many times grateful for the kindness of new friends.
Food has been much more difficult to come by. Even fast food, supposedly the cheapest of the cheap, is not really that inexpensive. Often times, a filling meal at McDonalds equals the cost of food at a local cafe. Life without a kitchen meant lots of meals out, and three square meals a day was not always an option. I never went hungry, though I wasn’t always pleased with the quality of food that I had to work with. I’m lucky now to have regular access to a kitchen as well as people to share and prepare meals with. This makes for healthier eating options and a happier belly to be getting back to my usual diet.
I was thrilled on Thanksgiving to receive an invite from a friend and talented chef to attend a community meal served to the public. The crowd that day was a mixture of locals who made this part of their tradition every year, some families of lower income, as well as some other travelers and some homeless folk. It truly was a gift to share the abundance of food with so many different people. After appetites were sated, the guitars and djembes came out to create some music in the coolness of the setting sun.
Public restrooms has been another focus. Often, the sleeping accommodations I have do not have regular access to running water. There have been a few, infrequent times when I’ve been denied access in a restaurant or small business, and I’ve felt the desperation of not knowing when I will encounter another working toilet and knowing that I have to go, go, go! That mans I am always grateful for a clean and private public restroom. They offer the opportunity to use the toilet as well as the sink to freshen up a bit. I am grateful this is not my everyday existence, and feel another level of compassion for the homeless I hadn’t considered before.
Internet access is a lifeline, and I am always happy to find somewhere with a decent connection. Even better if it comes close to wall socket to plug in my computer. Electricity is another resource that has become more valuable as I find that I do not always have access to it.
Housing was another issue I struggled with as the weather cooled and snow began to fall from the sky. With a short time frame to be in town, I was not in a position to sign a lease on a low cost apartment. I found myself instead dependent on costly hotel rooms, with weekly rates that would cover a whole month in a small apartment were one available. I was lucky to be taken in by friends who had a spare trailer, so I now find myself with a soft bed and a way to block the cold evening winds.
This was probably the most frustrating and most expensive part of this aspect of my experience. It made me wish there were more options available for affordable, low income housing for those in transition.
I know that many people who end up homeless in the US do not do so by choice and have less options than I have. I know that my situation is temporary, which has made it more an adventure and lesson in a facet of the One Human Experience, but for many people, there is no escape route.
As you celebrate the warmth and community of the Christmas season, do take a moment to notice the hungry person standing outside the gas station or grocery store, and pass out a warm blanket, clean pair of socks, food, or even a cash donation.