Fictional, but based on an actual conversation, with the interlocutor here speaking.
I’ve been homeless for ten years. I made some mistakes and I paid for them, but I lost all my friends, and my family refused to ever see me again. Jobs are scarce; I have no skills of value to anyone. But like Siddhartha in the Hesse novel, I can think, I can wait, I can fast. Many days I go hungry. But I have infinite patience. And I can think, but usually think myself into a self-righteous and ethical stalemate.
I decided to give up trying to make it, you know, to give up trying to be a square peg — or is it round? It was just too hard: trying to pay rent or a mortgage, trying to pay insurance and debts, trying to guess what pleases people.
I imagine average people would say that it is my fault, that I am dysfunctional. But wasn’t it Freud who said, “Who wants to be functional in a dysfunctional society?” Not just dysfunctional — modern society is basically sick. All the values are upside down. What is celebrated is greed, exploitation, violence. What is scorned is simplicity, nature, the slow, and the quiet.
Being homeless, I know this firsthand. Homelessness is being criminalized. Simplicity is being criminalized. The Native people of this continent didn’t have property deeds and legal documents, so everything was stolen from them, and when they insisted that this was their home and that everybody had free access to the water, the land, the forest — well, they were pushed out of the way, or were killed outright.
Today it’s average people, the poor people. The simple people. And many just don’t see how they are being abused by society. Homeless people are society’s front line, the soldiers that were put on the front line to die first. The average people, the wage slaves that carry on, they don’t realize what society has done to them. They don’t resent or understand, they just admire those who abuse them. They want to be rich, and they think the next lotto ticket is their pass to that stairway to heaven. John Steinbeck, the writer, called them “embarrassed millionaires.” That’s what they are, still groveling for a chance to sit at the boardroom table.
Of course, homeless people have a bad reputation. It’s true that many are alcoholics, addicts, mentally ill. They smell bad, wear ragged clothes, talk loudly to themselves. They scare me plenty of times when I’m out there. But that’s the difference: I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs. I have no behavior problems, travel with a clean kit, bathe and groom, and get clean thrift shop clothes when I need to. I stay in shelters and missions when I need to eat and rest, but I prefer being outdoors and on the road. I dumpster-dive for most food and sleep under the stars when I can, which is why I tend to stay in climates where there are beaches and woodlands. I don’t like to panhandle because then you immediately lose respect, and self-respect. I have money for small things because I will do odd jobs, though most people are suspicious of me. Many towns have centers where men gather waiting for a job. Once in a while I will get something, enough to keep me going, but I avoid groups. They can be dangerous to a peaceable person like me.
My health has been good. Maybe that’s because I eat very little, walk a lot, get fresh air. If I was religious I could be a wandering preacher. Jesus was a wandering preacher. Doesn’t the Gospel say that birds have their nests and foxes their dens but that he was homeless? Don’t people realize what that means, about God taking care of the flowers and birds? I think Jesus was homeless in every sense: no property, no relations, no friends or kin, no career. And that’s how he figured out everything, how he became wise. There isn’t any other path for a solitary.
You make no demands on life, if only because you aren’t around long enough to see the conclusion. Yet sometimes there is something that bubbles up inside of me, that you want to tell people, even shout to people, something like: “Don’t you know that you can be free? That if you could open up to everyone, you won’t need all this fear, this terror, insecurity. That all this control is a grand charade, a phantasmagoria to fool you into never going your own way, never daring to, never learning what life is all about. Isn’t that what Jesus might have said, and Buddha, and probably everybody else you would call wise?
So, you know, the town to where I am heading next is poor but has water and lots of trees. I’ve been there years ago. But every day is new. I feel like a deer or a bear or a turtle. Every day I have to find food, get some sleep, wash myself, protect myself. At least I don’t have anyone. It’s an odd blessing, though, or a curse of sorts: sometimes I get very lonely and wonder if it’s all wrong. Successful people don’t think that way, they just assume it’s all just right, just the way it should be, themselves, the world, the universe, it’s just dandy because they do what they want and nobody stops them, so therefore the universe favors the arrogant and the sociopath and the fittest. That’s the thinking of the mind serving the body and calling it success. But I don’t think like that. I think like the deer, and the bear, and the turtle. Life is tough but they are free.
It’s probably better not to think. Everything I know is from my intuition, my wits, my gut feeling. Not from thinking. Better not to think, really, because then what you know comes naturally, you come into knowing that is more natural instead of just assuming things because someone told you or because everybody else thinks that way, or because your life is ordered just so. In that way, my mind becomes very settled, very peaceful. It’s like finishing a journey that went well: you might remember and regret losing the good of it, but you are ready to finish and rest, satisfied weariness. That’s how I want to go, really, when that day catches up.
But no rest yet, no end yet. Say, I’d best be going on. Thanks for listening to me.