I went for a walk last Sunday morning. I was trying to clear my head of some stuff. I knew it was a mistake right away. It was early in the morning, but the heat was oppressive. Worse still, I couldn’t remember the last time the humidity was as high as it was that morning. It felt like I was walking in a tropical rain forest. It only took a couple of minutes before I was drenched in sweat and I was just wearing running shorts and a t-shirt.
As I was walking along I noticed a police car up ahead that was blocking one of the lanes on the road. Its red light was flashing, but no siren was blaring. It was just there to move traffic over one lane.
I could see four police officers up ahead standing around a shopping cart. One of them had rubber gloves on and was taking things out of the cart, then examining them one by one.
As I walked closer, one of the officers approached me and asked me to walk out in the street rather than on the sidewalk. So that’s what I did. But as I passed them I glanced over and noticed a bag on the ground. I knew right away it was a body bag and I also knew immediately that it wasn’t empty.
And then in a flash I knew what had happened. I had walked this route before and right by a church there was this little nook next to a retaining wall, perhaps six feet long and three feet wide. I had seen an old woman just laying there on many previous occasions. She was homeless and everything she possessed in the world was in that shopping cart she kept with her there.
It made me angry. I wondered what kind of society I lived in that would let an old lady be homeless like that, let her die like that? I wasn’t mad so much she was dead. But, like I said, it was just such an incredibly oppressive day. It had been like that for several days and every one I knew around here had been staying inside with their air conditioning blasting.
I remembered trying to think what it would be like to be outside in that heat and humidity twenty four hours a day. I had been one of those staying inside my air conditioned place to avoid being out in that. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to die out in that. I hope it was just a long sleep from which she never awakened. When I think about her dying out there, less than a quarter mile from where I live, my life suddenly seemed incredibly simple, so easy, so perfect, compared to what that poor woman endured.
To me it seemed cruel and unfair. Not that she died. All of us die. But that she died that way, unnoticed, uncared for, alone next to a church where I’m sure Sunday services were about to get under way. I was sorry for that. On the walk back home I thought about all the kids starving to death in Somalia. Why do I get to sit in front of a computer writing a depressing post like this, not hungry, not uncomfortable, not in any danger at all? And yet so many others never have any chance at all.
Is it because I’m more worthy somehow? That I’m smarter, more talented, more deserving?
No. It isn’t about any of that. It’s partly about the randomness of the universe, but much more about the capacity people to overlook what is staring us in the face every day so we don’t have to care.
We can send a man to the moon. We can save the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya.
We can do anything we want when it’s a priority for those with the money and power who make the decisions.
I wonder whether that’s something those Presidential candidates out in Iowa will be discussing tonight. What do you think?