In light of recent events in the (Not So) United States, I have been even more reflective than usual about the topics of privilege, bias, discrimination, and injustice lobbed toward many marginalized groups. While there are many instances of this indignity to shine a light on, one in particular is seared into my heart and mind. I do not wish to tell this story to pat myself on the back for being kind; I tell this story to remind each of us to examination the juxtapositions that we witness every day and stay silent about. The moments in which we witness indignity and do nothing.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting in Lincoln, the capitol city of Nebraska, focused on social role valorization and social justice advocacy. It was a rainy, gray morning much like today. I parked my car in an adjacent parking garage and began the jaunt a block north to arrive at my destination.
Upon arrival at the First National Bank tower, I came upon a man and his dog, curled up against the elements, only their heads visible under red sleeping bags. Two members of life seeking shelter in the doorway of a building that represents prosperity, yet these souls had none of that.
Two souls lying in the shadow of the Capitol building, with its gleaming Sower on the dome. The building in which decisions that affect their ability to live life to its greatest potential are made without their voices at the table.
As I left the meeting and descended into the bowels of the building to emerge from the lobby, I counted the money I had and I knew that I had to speak to this man. I could not allow his presence to go unacknowledged. I could not be a bystander; I could not be a hypocrite.
I gently touched his shoulder and spoke softly so as not to startle him. I told him my name, asked his and asked his dog’s name. He eyed me cautiously before speaking and we chatted a little. I asked him how I could support him on this day. His only request: a little food for his faithful companion if I could spare it. I asked him to please wait for me while I went to the Walgreens nearby to get some food. I bought a bag of dog food and a loaf of bread, some peanut butter and lunch meat and some mayonnaise. I brought it back and made him a sandwich and watched as he lovingly fed his beloved friend.
He told me a little about his trials and his joys. He is a proud man, depending on his own wits to get by without assistance from social programs, even though he qualifies. He would rather those in more need get the help they need. After they ate, he gathered his things and walked up the street with the Sower looming ahead of him.
The Sower, indeed. Yet what are we as a society sowing? Bias, hate, discrimination, oppression, and a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps regardless of your personal circumstances” mentality. We are sowing isolation from a place of privilege. We tell our fellow wanderers that their existence and potential don’t matter because their challenges are not ours.
It is in the shadows of prosperity and systemic oppression that hope must be sown. In the days since that encounter, the indignation of injustice has risen like bile from a blocked heart chakra to my throat chakra until the only thing I can do is to scream and use my voice for those whose voices are silenced.
It’s easy to see the light, but we need to value the darkness, too. There we will find the lost and lonely who are always left behind.
~ Bob Perks