Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Driving in town the other day, I found myself behind a bus in a lane that the bus always has to merge out of to continue on its route. The pickup truck to my left was a safe distance from the car in front, and it looked to me like he might have been hanging back so that the bus could, indeed, merge. However, as soon as the bus blinker went on, the pickup accelerated to close the gap and block the bus from merging. Half a dozen cars followed in rapid succession, all driving so as to avoid letting the bus merge.
It’s more common than it should be. We’ve probably all been stuck in a lane with our blinker on and nobody willing to let us over. As a result, nowadays, a lot of people won’t even signal when changing lanes. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was a bus commuter in the bitter cold months to get to a part-time temporary job that paid just enough for me to eat every other day. Seeing how these drivers treated the bus brought back memories of this time in my life and made me think of how so many people all sharing the same planet, and the same community, live in entirely different worlds.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own reality. If we eat regularly, it’s easy to forget that there are those who struggle to find food. We can focus too much on what we don’t like about our house and what we want to change about it without ever giving a thought to the homeless.
As odd as it sounds, I’m fortunate to have been able to sample homelessness and hunger. That bus was my lifeline for a time, and today I have a much greater appreciation for the service. I’m happy to let buses merge in front of me, and I might pass them at bus stops, but if I can’t that’s okay. They’re vital for so many people that the slight inconvenience I might suffer waiting for people at a bus stop is nothing compared to their need.
It’s all too easy to point to the homeless and say, “why don’t they just…?” It’s not that easy, though. Can you imagine trying to get a job dressed in clothes you’ve found in a dumpster, unkempt because you can’t afford to shave or get a haircut, dirty because you cannot shower? What do you do when somebody requires you to have a bank account because, by policy, they only do direct deposit, but you don’t have enough money to open one?
Teaching forensic science, I initiated a discussion of addiction. It’s all too easy to get people to agree that it’s the addict’s fault, they’re adults and they need to stop, especially with people who have never had to overcome addiction themselves. Then I started talking about if children who are addicted are at fault, and the class became less certain. What about, I asked, the baby that is born addicted because mom used drugs while pregnant. Surely, not the baby’s fault, and yet, that baby was addicted at birth, and grew up in around drug users in a family that normalized the use of narcotics. Once an adult, is that person to blame for their addiction?
The world of an addict is very different from those of us free from the affliction. I know very little of that life, but I do know enough to realize that I wouldn’t have the knowledge or skills needed to survive in that world. The world of the hungry and homeless is very different from that most of us know, because we’ve never had to decide between eating food that we find rotting in a dumpster or sleeping on it because decaying food gives off heat. We have no idea how many barriers there are for people in wheelchairs because most of us have never had to find a way into a building and to the second floor while restricted to using one.
Maybe, just maybe, we should take a moment to be grateful for the world that we live in, and those that we haven’t experienced other worlds in our society. I am not a religious man, so don’t look for me in a church, but I am spiritual, and I do thank God, as I am right now, for what I do have. And while we’re at it, let’s try to be a little more understanding of others, and just let that bus merge.