I am a bigot of self-awareness. The year I fell awake, I was waking across the country: from Fort Lauderdale to LA. I lived with the homeless. I ate with the poor. I stood with people who had nowhere to stand. I appreciated a tarp as a thankful respite from the storm. I was grateful for the cardboard box that shielded me from the sun. Near the end of my journey, I was so very thankful for any kind word; anything just to keep my encouragement up and look for the next day.
At the apex of this self-imposed misery, some things started to make sense. I realized that we’re all miserable – we’re all suffering. Maybe not in the same way. Maybe not from the same things. But we suffer. It’s the one quality that brings humanity together – makes us so aware of what’s left undone, what’s keeping us from being whole. Before I started my journey, my disposition was to shun people who I thought were narrow-minded; souls who ignored the misery of others. But then, I said to myself, “Who am I not hear their suffering as well? Just because I don’t agree with them, doesn’t mean they are any less human.” Were I really a humanist, I would not shun anyone. Instead, I should open my arms and embrace every last one. But – alas – I’m a fraud.
I was really never homeless. I just took it upon myself to BE homeless for about a year because I had it in my mind that it’d be cool. But under that bullshit, late-teen idealism of mine, I had a home to go home to. Anytime I wanted, I could get a motel room, a shower, sleep on a nice bed, and – BAM – I’d be on a jet going home. Here’s another thing that I discovered about myself. I’ve never been a very forgiving person. I’m still ashamed to admit that through my life, I’ve been deeply envious, darkly vindictive. I hate the haters for hating me; and I hate myself for hating them. I guess the one silver lining to my self-discovery is that I know myself. I know my weaknesses enough that I may be better if the time comes that I must be better. All I need is more experience – fall awake even more.
I’ll need a big bong hit to figure all of this out – listen to some old Hendrix…
If you can just get your mind together
Then come on across to me
We’ll hold hands an’ then we’ll watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea
Are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have…
The more you change, the more you realize that you’re just the same. Only through true self-awareness can we control the animal in us that can make misery so fucking intolerable.
The photos in this post are of companions that I traveled with through Florida taken by a journalist who just happened to be doing a story about the homeless. In the top photo is Rick – the dude passed out on a cot. He was a professed “addict of everything” – and he lived up to that profession. He died about three days after that photo was taken. He said he was a Vietnam war vet, but he was too young to serve (he was about my age). I think he was just really messed up. In the bottom photo, Terry with the light hair was from New York. “Patches” said he was from Virginia, but his accent said he was from up north. These guys were very generous and patient with me. I could tell that they had a backstory that they didn’t want to talk about. I think “Patches” may have been a vet, but I never found out if he served in any war.