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.)