Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Once in the Wilderness, Look Around



In the wilderness, some people are invisible. They maybe made you a sandwich for lunch. Or they checked out the groceries you bought, or delivered your newspaper or carryout. They work but you don't see them; when the news mentions the "working poor" you wonder how the numbers can be so high. All your friends are middle class.
You don't see the school bus driver, or the crossing guard, much less the lunchroom ladies who don't get paid when school is closed. You don't notice the day-care aid, the nighttime janitorial staff, the ones who do the jobs someone has to do, for not much money. How many people do you see every day, but never ask their names?
The wilderness is full of people you never bothered to know.
A homeless woman raised her hand to speak to me in Washington, D.C. It was Sunday, early morning, in the snug well-manicured park between high-rent hotels and the actual White House. The woman, elderly, overweight, black, wore several layers of clothes topped by a green t-shirt, and pushed what appeared to be all her possessions in a small square grocery cart.
I smiled and said Good Morning. She grinned. "Happy St. Patrick's Day!" she said. "I'm glad to see you wearing green!"
"You too!" I said, walking on.
My husband wanted to know what she'd asked of me.
"Nothing," I said, but it wasn't the true. She'd asked me to see her, to confirm that she was visible inside the wilderness.