In an effort to be more mindful, to pay more attention to the world around me, some of these pieces will include shit I see every day.
I used to take the same route, every day, to and from work. Metra. Millenium. Michigan to Monroe. My route was dutifully consistent until I deviated out of a necessity to escape the brutal cold and even harsher winds in Chicago. The deviation took me into the belly of the city. As you would have it, a tunnel that I sought out in desperate need of comfort, away from the elements, instead pushed me into a state of incredible agitation. When moving away from one thing is actually moving towards another.
It happened over the course of months. A collection of images, smells, and sounds compounding to the point that the accumulation of their weight demanded my attention. I could no longer ignore what everyone else around me, walking, rushing to work, seemed to so effortlessly tune out.
Cracked peanut shells. An empty Crest toothpaste tube. An Auntie Annie’s cup filled with beer… or much likelier, piss. Soiled napkins. McDonald's cups and fry containers strewn across the floor. A man, pushing a person, man or woman unknown, in a wheelchair, covered in navy fleece similar to the one I bury myself into each night at home. Another wheelchair, this time with a man, shaking the logoless white cup, eager to catch change from the rush of workers completely glazing over his existence. A man, sleeping, covered in black, shoulders carved into the rust marble concrete. Human feces, a plop of it. Stuttering. A voice in the corner, talking to itself, or the other self that emerged as a symptom of schizophrenia. An oscillation between muttering and screaming. Coming from the man protected by nothing but a red and blue Cubs jacket and pink leggings worn, gripping his skin.
I look away as soon as I can; unable to stare. Unwanting of a word or two coming my way.
I look away. We all look away.
And soon enough, I emerge from the depths of what feels like hell, thrust back into the weather we all wish we could endlessly avoid. I make my way to the Chase Tower and travel up to the 40 something floor, looking out over the city, with a beautiful view of the lake, and a birds-eye view of the tiny dots of people sitting on corners with cats, cardboard, and a collection of their necessities.
And it feels awful. Because I am unable to shake how complacent I and everyone else around me is with homelessness in the city.
I’ve worked downtown for six months now. And I’m not sure if it’s my awareness (or my lack of awareness before) but I can’t unsee the homelessness around me. My commute, daily, has become a sort of hallway of the homeless, a museum on display that should have never made it to exhibit. (Curated by the master itself, an economic system bolstered by othering.) And quite honestly, my reaction was and has always been one of disgust. Who could live like this?
Or rather, how could anyone choose to live like this? I placed blame on the individual rather on acknowledging the systems and structures that cast people to the street. (And sleep at night casting people into the street when there’s no shortage of homes, no shortage of resources, to ensure that every person at least has the right to food and shelter.) But no.
I ran into an old temporary security guard from my high school once. I was strolling down Michigan Avenue with my mother when I took a double look and realized that the man shaking the cup in the corner of a closed retail shop was a man I knew. I stopped, and walked up to him, choosing, unlike the many people outside, to acknowledge his existence. I’d seen his face so many times, running into Whitney Young, past the metal detectors, late for school. We exchanged words, and I learned that he had no family, no friends, to create the safety net to underpin him as his temporary position came to an end. I walked off, continued my life, as we often have to do to survive, but couldn’t shake the fact that a man who appeared secure (he was quite literally, a security guard), had now found a sordid home off one of Chicago’s busiest shopping streets.
To be quite honest. I’m not sure why I wrote this. I’m sure I will continue my commute. Some days fading into the wave of commuters and workers who I often condemn; who have ignored the humanity in other people. Who have become complacent in someone else's denial of basic human rights? Maybe.
Though, as I think about more, the knot that ties this altogether lies in the question:
What is consciousness, what is knowledge, what is experience, if we are all still complacent? If were are not moved to disrupt, dismantle, or destroy that which we deem unquestionably unjust?