Your heart on your sleeve…

Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska

Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s four days before Christmas.There’s a man outside my window standing in the rain  holding a cardboard sign on which is written the all too familiar words, “Homeless. Please help. Will accept random acts of kindness.” He’s been outside my apartment for the past four Fridays with his sign and his sleeping bag and his backpack and his vulnerability.

It takes courage to admit you’re vulnerable. To express your needs, your dreams, your hopes to the world. I watch for hours how people respond. It’s often women who stop and talk with him, slip some money in his hand, or bring him soup or coffee. Mostly, people walk past him trying to avoid bumping into him or looking in his eyes. I don’t have anything to give him: a room, a bed, a meal, a buck.

It’s so difficult for us to fully embrace how we are vulnerable all the time. Our government has just decided to spend 633 billion dollars on defense. Yet we cannot decide if taking care of the poor, the elderly, the sick, the mentally impaired, the environment is worth it. We’re still debating about who will pay for these things and how much. But defending ourselves… well, now, that’s our priority. Coincidence? I don’t think so. We can’t bear the thought that we’re just a mass of plasma; mortal, vulnerable and susceptible to any number of dangers.

I’m an actor, a director, a playwright and a poet. I’m part of that unsupported mass of the population that’s right down there with the homeless, the infirm, the elderly and the rest. The poor.

But I know at least one immutable thing from my profession: every night when I go out on stage, perhaps, or when I submit a poem to a magazine, I’m reminded of how much in every aspect of my life as a human being I’m vulnerable. There’s no guarantee I’ll make enough money to feed, clothe, house myself, or that I will achieve any dream, hope, or fulfill any need beyond surviving. I don’t mean to be flippant. I’m not vulnerable in the same way as the homeless man outside my window. Not exactly, at this moment. He’ll sleep in the woods tonight and I’m here in my barely furnished apartment writing. At any one time, there are differences in vulnerability between all of us. But make no mistake: we are all of us vulnerable no matter how well we defend ourselves.

English: A homeless man in New York with the A...

English: A homeless man in New York with the American flag in the background. Français : Un homme sans domicile fixe à New York. Un drapeau des États-Unis est visible en arrière plan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a few weeks, I’ll set off on a journey in my old clunky automobile; a journey determined by my body’s need for a warmer climate with more sunshine, and with the hope of finding a community of like-minded artists who recognize that our vulnerability, our basic humanity, our willingness to wear our heart on our sleeve is one of our greatest strengths and gifts.

If you know of such a group and such a place, I’m “Homeless. Please help. Will accept random acts of kindness.”


9 thoughts on “Your heart on your sleeve…

  1. Thanks for the thoughts and the great links. With these long dark nights and the nasty cold rain we’ve been having, I begin to feel old and…yes, vulnerable. I become more aware of how little difference there is between my situation in life, which I like to believe is very stable and safe, and that of the homeless folks I talk to and work with every day in my small town. I was impatient with somebody today because I was tired and my head hurt, and I could tell he was extremely frustrated by this project I was trying to help him with, and we both starting spinning: lots of bad feelings and more misery. But it was human, too: there was a sense of two people struggling. I don’t know if this fellow is homeless, but he might be, and he was clearly overwhelmed by one more damned frustrating thing he had to do in his life. People all around us are carrying burdens, and often we don’t notice–or we notice that something’s going on, but we don’t know the details. That’s where art has a role, I think: it enables us to see into each other’s lives. It develops empathy. It allows us to encounter our own worst fears and work through them. Sometimes it raises new fears! That’s always unsettling…but there is usually an antidote to be found, or the search for an antidote deepens understanding of our real human predicament.

  2. Okay, here is my take on the subject. I do help the Homeless. I have bags in my car in which I keep canned foods and other necessities and when the bags get filled enough, I give them out to someone who is homeless. However, I choose someone who is sitting beside the road or pushing a cart verses someone actually holding a sign. Unfortunately, there is to much bad press about the ones holding signs not really wanting to work for the help, or not really needing the help or refusing the food for money or what have you. I wish to help someone who is not actually begging but can use the help. A lot of us help in our own secret ways in which you do not see. I do like your take on the subject. Good post.

    • I have a similar approach: by starting with an offer to buy someone a sandwich or coffee or some small interaction involving help I can get to know them and see if there is a true basic human need that I can help with. It allows me to get to know them without judging them and to honestly assess whether I can help. Based upon their response, I trust my instincts about whether the connection is helpful or whether they need something I can’t give, afford, have the skills to address, etc. Some of the homeless have addiction problems, mental health challenges, etc… and I’m not equipped to address these. In a lot of cases, I try to direct them to better sources of help.
      Thanks for your response. And thanks for helping in a way that makes sense for you, too!

  3. Pingback: Your heart on your sleeve… « brainsections

  4. Pingback: FINALLY: Obama gets called to task on poverty

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