By Laura McLester
We live in a nice suburb of Washington DC amongst unnamed buildings related to national security and tall engineering/computer organizations that many would easily recognize (Boeing sound familiar?), all in the shadow of the five sided headquarters.
However, if you look carefully, you’ll also see a few one-man organizations hidden away in the cracks and crevices of this towering city (no building height restrictions here!). Some refer to them as the “homeless”; however, I think “open-air-living” is more appropriate in the case of my local gentleman that I walk by every Tuesday on the way (ironically, no doubt) to the farmer’s market.
See, he isn’t homeless. Wall-less, yes. Homeless, no. He has a home, it is just different than yours or mine. His home is actually more organized and neater than mine honestly. I know, you’re wondering how this can be and you think I’m just trying to make his situation sound not as dire if I rename it. But let me explain.
On my first walk to the farmer’s market a few weeks ago, I happened to glance up while I was passing under the highway overpass. There, where the diagonal support wall meets the underside of the road, were the makings of a home.
I first passed by the “kitchen”, known by the bottled drinks carefully lined up on the metal support beam, amongst other items. Then I came to the “bedroom” with its neatly rolled sleeping bag-cardboard box combo and a folded blanket. Sounds like the basic necessities of living, no?
I mean, you have to admit, he has the bare necessities for this time of year at least–drinks to stay hydrated, something soft to sleep on, and privacy because he is so far up in the eves of the underpass that most probably don’t notice him.
Each week that I walk by though, I notice him. And I look for any changes–it’s like looking in your neighbor’s house when you drive by each night and their blinds are up and all the lights are on-kind of like your own personal diorama.
His house is always a bit different. One week, he had a care package from someone else who had noticed him. It was a basket of goodies wrapped in red, white and blue (the “thanks for your service…enjoy your bridge and box” debate will be left to someone else to write about for now).
The next week, those items were carefully arranged on the kitchen supports, all lined up neatly, while a few of the drinks had changed. Another week, he had acquired some haphazardly-placed new cardboard boxes, possibly in time for the upcoming cooler weather. However, by that next Tuesday, they were neatly stacked in his storage area away from the rainy weather (not sure if it was rain from above or steam from below?).
Last week, he had company in town. This gentleman was sleeping on the ledge below his bedroom but nothing from his house had been disturbed that I could tell. Curiously enough though, in all these weeks of watching his living space change and — well, live — I’ve never actually seen him there.
Now, a few of the weeks, I’ve seen him standing at bottom of the on-ramp working (whether we agree on this style of work or not, it is strenuous, standing for all those hours in the brutally hot sun), but otherwise he is out and about, going about his day until he comes “home” at night.
Now, maybe you see this all as justification on my part. But I never said that this type of living should go through our society as acceptable. I merely claim that this gentleman has a home of sorts that I notice each week that has challenged my concept of what a home is and what having a home means.
And by challenging my thinking, he has served as a subtle reminder to me (and now to you) that everyone has worth, and we shouldn’t be in such a hurry to steamroll others’ way of living — in order to make their lives look like our lives — that we miss out on even acknowledging what that worth is.
While he likely often goes unnoticed or, more likely, gets intentionally ignored in everyday society and doesn’t have four walls, he does have worth. On the most basic level, his worth is that I have been drawn into the issue of “open-air-living” in a unique way — just as society becomes invested in reality show star’s lives, I am becoming invested in what happens to him each week.
On a deeper level, his worth is that he has reminded me that life is made richer simply in noticing others and finding their worth. With that, I challenge you to ignore no one that you come across and appreciate each of them for what they bring to society no matter how much they may seem to be lacking.
Laura has a social work background and a heart for the voiceless wherever they may be. She loves to notice the unnoticed and dreams of leaving a mark on this world.