Thursday, July 24, 2008

City Life

I had an interesting experience last night. How about I set the scene for you? This is what I see when I look out the window or sit on my porch.
















St. John's church is up the street and St. John's park is directly across the street from my house. It's a typical urban park, a few large trees, a flag pole, a few stone benches that overlook the city and have the same view as I do when I'm sitting in my living room. The redbuds in my header bloom in the park in the spring. Beautiful stonework walls line the sidewalk and a stone stairway leads down to the lower level of the park which is an open field where I play with my dog and kids play soccer and families come to hang out. Lots of folks take their lunch break at the park to enjoy the view either in their cars or lounging on the stone wall. Our street is the last street on the Kansas side, then the park, the river and an area called the West Bottoms which is an old warehouse district. Then the land rises up to downtown Kansas City, Missouri. My neighborhood is a mix of old and new, young and old, urban blight and urban renewal. I love my neighborhood, I get energy from the diversity and from the struggle to make it a good place for everyone to live.





















The interstate connecting Kansas and Missouri is below the park and with the railroad and the ramps and bridges and the river it is an area with a significant homeless population. A few blocks up from my house is the Willa Gill Center. Every day, 365 days a year they serve a hearty lunch to anyone who shows up. You would be surprised to see who and how many people get their only meal at Willa Gill. Everyday around 11:30 a trickle of people come up from the West Bottoms for lunch. I've seen a glimpse of camps, communities down by the river when we ride our bikes or walk the riverfront trail and there are a few that spend some time in the park across the street. The other day I saw two men who scrambled under the ramp to the interstate. It must have been loud and hot under there. Mostly though I don't see them, they're hidden, but I know they're there.





















I guess it took longer to set the scene than I thought. So last night I had one of those sleepless nights. As I was wandering trying to entertain myself I went downstairs and sat by the window. I noticed a man in the park. It was 2:45 a.m. I couldn't see him clearly, but he appeared middle aged, thin, and he was carrying a backpack. He was systematically searching through the trash can in the park. He would dig for a minute and then lay his finds on the sidewalk in a neat row. Dig for a few more minutes and add to his stash. He glanced at his finds and picked up a few things and put them in his pack, threw others back in the trash and left others on the sidewalk to be reconsidered. He dug some more and eventually all he thought worthy of keeping were in his pack and the rest back in the trash. I thought he was moving on as he began to walk up the hill, but he paused and did the same at the second trash can. I couldn't see what he kept. He then walked to the stone bench with the best view and put his pack on the edge of the bench, took off his jacket and folded it neatly and put it in his pack. He sat on the bench with his pack beside him and looked at the lights of the city. I watched him as he sat and I wondered about him. I wanted to sit next to him on the bench and talk with him. Was he homeless? Was he hiking the interstate and trying to get somewhere?

I have many questions. There are so many things I don't understand. We have so much and many have so little. I've been known to take someone's trash too, a cute table on the street which has potential. Is that how he feels too, "I can do something with this." I wonder.
(Photos are by my son Jon. He loves to capture that urban feeling.)



22 comments:

A Spoonful Of Sugar said...

Well written Jacquie - you painted a vivid picture and raised some points to ponder! It is funny I always imagined that you lived in a rural area not in the City. Sounds like an intersting and diverse neighbourhood.

audreypawdrey said...

What an eloquent post, this is. I do understand the not being able to sleep and trying to figure out what people are doing very late at night out on the street. For about four years, I lived in the Highlands Park neighborhood in Birmingham, AL. If you went up the hill, houses were old late 1800's to 1920's houses, some mansions-some really nice houses. Down the hill was the projects. It was interesting and scary at times. I met some very wealthy people who were extremely nice and some who were on the edge. I used to walk to the grocery store late at night, which I know was not smart-but I was young and had my dog and thought I would be okay because it was before 10 and it was only a block and a half away-and there was a guy who was always out at night. He was schizophrenic and I always ended up talking to him for about half an hour, although I can't remember what it was about now. He was such a nice guy and he made me realize how much I have now and how much I had then. At the time, I was making minimum wage and then just a little better. We gave him our old space heater, and I would worry that he would forget to turn it off and burn his apartment down. That thankfully didn't happen, but it did break and then I worried that he was warm. We eventually moved away, but I wonder if he is still wandering along those streets. I was fresh out of college, my parents loved and supported me on my decisions (even though they didn't necessarily agree with them), I had a boyfriend (who is now my husband), and I think through my encounter with him, i realized how lucky I really was. Thank you for helping me remember that.

Thriftin and Craftin said...

I'm wondering about him too! I'm struck by the fact that he seemed so "deep" and took the time to make sure everything went back in the trash. Maybe an educated man that fell on hard times? I hope he's not homeless, but I know he has an amazing story no matter what the case may be. I have chills from this post. Thanks for the great "tour" and sharing your son's amazing photography skills!

woolywoman said...

nicely said. I also pick through people's trash, particularly furniture. No matter where we are on the ladder, I guess someone is above us and someone below.

magikquilter said...

Beautifully written and photographed Jacquie. We worked at an Anglican church for many years and only left when we felt the divide between have and have nots was so great. The minister decided to build staff housing costing well over a million dollars in the vain hope that staff would come to work there as the houses were so nice and well situated. All this while providing no outreach facilities to the poor I might add.

The three houses were built at the back of the graveyard overlooking a glorious heritage park where many homeless gather. We also knew several people in the congregation who were lucky to have one room to live in and that was after a lifetime of hard work. When the minister arranged for the congregation to examine and bless these houses we felt we could no longer work there. We always said that if our beliefs as committed Christians were challenged by the organised church we would have to leave and this was to be the case.

The gulf between the have and have nots is extraordinary although I have found as someone who has very little that we are often happier than others who have so much. And we who have so little have so much compared to others who are on the street. We have a warm dry home....its small but its near everything...its in a beautiful place, Sydney...and we are together and we have our integrity also. Thank you Jacquie for being so observant and so intelligent and thereby giving me this opportunity to voice something that I have barely dared talk about since we left the church for fear of offending the truly misled though well intentioned people in our old place of worship and work. Bless you.

Stephanie said...

Are you sure you weren't a writer in a previous life? I think it's something you're born with, a gift. Your son also has a gift. Beautiful photography.

QuiltedSimple said...

Great post Jacquie! I always wonder (and then wonder what people think of me as I stop and ask if I can take something they have obviously set out for the trash!) what kind of people go through the trash - and am amazed at the wastefulness of so many. It doesn't take much to donate to goodwill (where I am a frequent shopper too) but some people "just can't be bothered."
Kris

Becky said...

Thank you! Your commentary makes me think that I do need to be very thankful for what I have. Also I need to keep saying Hello to the strangers on the street because you never know who they are or what they've been through or that my Hello might be the most important thing that happened that day. Thanks for making me THINK!

Stephanie D. said...

I wonder what would be worth keeping from a park trash can. You don't think of anything but maybe lunch trash in that particular location. What would he find that would be worth keeping in a backpack?

And then to take the time to sit on a park bench at 3 in the morning and enjoy the view. When does he sleep? Where does he sleep?

Almost makes you want to stay up until 2:45 am with a pair of binoculars to see if he comes back, doesn't it?

Intriguing post!

4patch said...

Beautiful photos - well done John.

It really does make you grateful, doesn't it? Life is good - it's too bad we forget that sometimes.

Thanks for your reflections, Jacquie.

Faith said...

Wow I enjoyed reading this post.
I become homeless once when my ex was upto no good I had to leave. Those homeless people are somebody, someone special sadly a lot end up homeless through situations not always their fault. I can feel for them I once helped a homeless man get warm again when he almost died on the streets I felt so sorry for him. I know it was naive and perhaps silly of me to do that but that was my heart and the way I was.
I let this almost dying man sleep on the sattee have a hot meal a hot bath then off on his travels he went again. So your post made me go back in time too.
He said a very sad thing he said once you are homeless and sleep rough and do this for years and years you just cant change. Feel mentally trapped when ever sleeping inside a building so have to sleep outside. Thankfully I got a flat now with a wonderful man and were happy. Its nice you gave this man in the park a thought.

apple cyder said...

Hi Jacquie, Thanks for a nice, thoughtful post. Feeling pretty grateful. I also thought you lived on the "prairie." Love your son's photos. Molly

Regi said...

What a beautifully written post Jacquie, and your son's photography is awesome!

I too wonder what the man was thinking as he sat there looking at the city. What he was thinking, what he was experiencing and how he came to be leading that life.

jovaliquilts said...

I really related to your post, as I have felt the same helplessness and curiosity many times. We are all human, yet bridging the gaps between us is not easy. I feel so helpless sometimes!

The photos are great -- your son has a wonderful eye!

Penny said...

You pulled me in and now I want to know "the rest of the story"! I think the rest of the story for me is definitely to be thankful for what I have and to bless others as much as possible!

Amy said...

What a great post . . . life is so unfair, so unexpected sometimes. Lord knows, that man never thought he would end up in his current situation. Thanks for sharing :)

Exuberant Color said...

Great post! I know some people DO choose to stay homeless because they feel free that way, others maybe not. I worry about them in the winter and in the extreme heat of the summer. I wish there could be more shelters for temporary stay for those who choose this life. And I wish there was a way we could all leave things for them. Maybe a used item bin instead of a garbage can.

4patch said...

Hi again Jacquie,
I've nominated you for a blog award. Come see my site for details!
-Amy

MichelleB said...

I like what faith said "Its nice you gave this man in the park a thought." I enjoyed your post, and also others comments. Wonderful.

gardenymph said...

What a beautiful story to read first thing in the morning. You do have a gift for writing. Thank you for sharing such a touching and thought provoking piece of your life. I will be thinking about the man all day.

jillytacy said...

This is a well written post! I enjoyed the pictures too and felt like I was standing at the window with you. I felt bad for the man digging in the trash and hope better times find him soon. Great writing Jacquie! I too have been know to take someone else's garbage for a project. It's amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do.

koolbreeze2 said...

first time here... i'm being nosy! i love Kansas City. i will live there one day. in the first picture my Ex lived in the building with the yellow box on it!! i loved that view... i have family in KCK... summers there were always special! you're so lucky to live there! i love your quilts. my grandmother who lived in KCK loved to quilt... and to who i owe my love and passion for quilts... i miss her.