I see him every time I go to Central Square. He's in the same spot on the same sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue, wearing the same wire-framed glasses and partially toothless smile, holding the same plastic bag full of newspapers under his arm, offering them to passersby for $1.
"Spare Change?" He says to us all as we pass by.
The paper is Spare Change News, and he is there every day until he sells every one. And though I saw the relief on his face the day I was the purchaser of his last paper, I don't know that he then had anywhere to go that would be considered as comfortable a space as what most of us can call home.
Now, I don't mean to sounds like a white knight(ress) in shining armor and say that I buy a paper and rescue this man from the street throes of sidewalk dwelling everyday, but I often do buy one. I usually do have $1 of spare change rolling around in my backpack or pocket somewhere after teaching my Tuesday afternoon yoga class, and before buying lunch at a local café specializing in "therapeutic and organic cuisine." An "urban oasis" they call themselves, full of green kale, strawberry-and-cacao smoothies, and colorful ceramic bowls of infused tofu.
The newspaper is in the form of black Times New Roman ink on grey, recycled wood pulp. It is its own organic joint collaboration among nonprofit organization The Homeless Empowerment Project (HEP), Boston Jobs with Peace, and the homeless individuals who then are part of disseminating the valuable information and well-written articles I've come to find in this forum. It is an initiative to "empower the economically disadvantaged through self-employment, skill development and self-expression," an attempt to redefine the perception of homelessness and poverty, and in the meantime, it keeps those of us who do have the right to vote in this country well-fed with mental fodder to consume while we continue to sustain our bodies with our macrobiotic, raw, vegan and gluten-free lunches. Please note, there is no judgment intended there; to the casual observer and potentially to this man from whom I procure a paper, I am one of those indistinguishable ladies who teaches yoga, wears yoga clothes during the day, and rides my bike to indulge my palate in hand-cooked, high-quality food.
But despite that potential narrow image, the somewhat unavoidable result of the mental filters we all have in order for us to digest the world around us, 2-D images of course never fully encapsulate our 3-D selves. There is something about riding my bike over city concrete, or taking the CT1 bus over the graffiti bridge to get there, and then buying a paper from this man, that itself feels like one of the rawest and most socially integrated experiences of my day. As he hands me a paper, I hand him a dollar in exchange, and the makeshift barrier that exists between two different social classes of people is broken down by both of our authenticity in this experience, and the willingness of each of us to honor the fact that we both have something to offer one another other.
I revel in what that feels like to re-negotiate the constructs that keep us separate from our fellow man in our day-to-day lives.
I read one of the most powerful and interesting pieces I have yet about the election in the most recent Spare Change News issue that I purchased. It spoke of interdependence, of how the election issues are not just made up entirely of national issues that affect our own selves, our own comfort, and our own provincial ways of life. It talked of how these issues, markets, and frontiers that exist in our country -- and our future plans for them -- will not only be the result of the choices we make for our nation, but the actions we take that will then affect the international stage and larger global world and as well. It was one of the most real reminders to check back in with myself and my own values and hopes for a national leader who I hope is thinking about these election issues through a global lens, in order to best provide for us here "at home," and our brothers and sisters abroad. In the midst of smear campaigns and yellow journalism that make it difficult to wade through the muddy waters of fiction versus fact, this article reminded me of a core value that I too was perhaps missing by way of my own micro-focused lens: The ripple effect of our own individual focuses and choices impact our lives as a universe. Not just a country.
Experiencing the world in the context of our own natural and unexpected disasters like Hurricane Sandy was a recent reminder to us of what it feels like to have our circumstances change at the drop of a dime. Sandy also brought with her the added undercurrent suggestion of the interconnectedness of all of our lives in a way that is governed by mother nature, a natural disaster that affected our nation. It reminds us too that the foundation of true interdependence does start at home, and it humbles us to know what it feels like when these things happen to "us."
The gift in these circumstances of destruction and devastation, though not one we would necessarily have asked for, is perhaps the chord of compassion lying within our souls that becomes undoubtedly struck in these situations, allowing us to then see with clearer eyes the reality of the issues that surround us both in our own individual worlds at home, and in outlying spaces at large. There is a way that these common experiences of man remind us what needs our attention, that we are all interconnected and united in some way, and they offer us the opportunity to no longer ignore the vulnerability and need of others that we see on our own city streets. Rather, we are forced to confront these experiences that give rise to our own feelings of discomfort, and decide how we want to respond. It might be a neighborhood dollar here, and the international impact of a vote there.
All in all, I think that kind of awareness and reminder of civic duty is well worth the price of my spare change.
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