Tuesday, April 01, 2008

the homeless tree

Let me begin by saying: This post is not some proposal on how to end homelessness. Neither is this a self righteous raving about how I help homeless people and you should too.

This is a confession of how I have failed these people, my neighbors. I confess I routinely turn my head when driving past homeless people. I confess I have been irritated by friends who have stopped walking to pass on a few dollars to someone who has humbly asked for their assistance. I confess I've never volunteered at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. I confess I have had feelings of disdain and resentment for people just like me who simply have no place to sleep tonight. I confess I've been scared of these people. I confess I've never shed a single tear for a homeless person. I confess I have still have little remorse for this sin. I know should weep for this sin, I do not. "For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me."

"The homeless tree" is near the intersection of Sam Cooper and East Parkway. It is situated on a grassy patch of land. If you know anything about this area you are aware of the almost constant presence of homeless people on the medians at the traffic lights. They hold signs asking for assistance, and wait patiently for passersby to show kindness. Recently I noticed these people have made this tree a makeshift shelter, at any given time two or more homeless people sit under this tree...

It prospers. The tree is lush and green, it has an elaborate wardrobe that updates itself seasonally.
They wear clothes that blend in. Somehow, their clothes dissolve into a monotone shade of gray. They have weathered skin, a deep tan. Endless hours in the sunshine have turned their features into leathery versions of their former selves.
They fight the elements to survive.
The tree is enriched by the sun. The tree needs the weather. The rain, the sun, the heat, they are essential to the tree's existence.
They are humble. Any pride they formerly had is banished with an accessory like a soggy cardboard sign. No one can put on airs when begging for change.
The tree stands proud. It curves beautifully at its trunk. It is graceful, it is strong.
They are hungry. They pray for their next meal. They hope they will eat, many know they will not. The cardboard sign is their hope.
The tree has never asked for a meal. The tree never misses a meal.
They both stand at the corner of these two streets.
While one is healthy, the other is dying.
The tree is content to stand at the intersection, this is his home.
They have no home, other than the tree. They congregate beneath its lush branches, it gives shade and provides a place to rest.
Why this tree? Do they find solace in the deep roots and sturdy trunk of the tree?
The contrast is startling. The tree is a symbol of life, while their spirits epitomize dying.
It's a simple tree. They are people who simply do not have a home.

The tree does its part to help the homeless, it is there, it contributes, it encourages, it protects... If only I could say I've done half as much, if only I were more like the homeless tree.

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