With the mass shootings in San Bernardino and the Presidential Candidate responses there is an increase in fear being perpetrated throughout the United States. Along with the fear there is an increase in anti rhetoric that is not new to our society but so disappointing that even after all our past mistakes we have yet to really learn from them. I have been told much of my life that the reason we study history is so we can learn from our past mistakes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did?
This morning a friend shared this image on Facebook and it made me remember several things. One of those things is that within my circle of friends we don’t engage in the fear and the anti rhetoric. Another is that I am happier when I am ignorant of the bad things transpiring upon our little planet. Another is that there is really very little I can do about those bad things other than be a good neighbor to all of my brothers and sisters that I happen to meet upon my journey.
This past week I had the occasion to drive into Inglewood for the trial of a family member in the Juvenile Court, which in and of itself is not a happy event. On this past Wednesday morning I had taken the Florence Avenue off ramp of the Harbor Freeway and was surprised by the number of homeless encampments that bordered my route. That afternoon I attempted to take the Harbor Freeway and was further surprised by the homeless encampments I saw at my tortoise speed that lined the bridges over the Freeway.
On Thursday morning I took Interstate 10 to La Brea Avenue and crossed over and into Inglewood and was taken again by the evidence of homelessness. I was intentionally early, however, and was able to sit on the Library Square, write some poetry, and reminisce about a time more than forty-four years ago when my girlfriend and I visited that same library, dined at a favorite nearby (but now long gone) sidewalk café, attended her piano recital at Inglewood High School, and even got stuck at the top of a Ferris Wheel on All Fool’s Day at the St. John Chrysostom Catholic Church on Florence Avenue.
As the SigAlert app on my phone showed that the freeways were horribly congested when I left for home Thursday afternoon I took surface streets, starting with Manchester Boulevard, through neighborhoods I haven’t seen in decades. I passed by the Forum where my girlfriend and I had gone to see the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, and Martha and the Vandellas. I crossed over to the Imperial Highway and drove through the south side of Watts and later recalled that it was in August of 1965 when, only a few days shy of my eleventh birthday fifty years ago, I had watched the flames and smoke that engulfed that community from the rooftop of my home. As I continued alongside the crawling 105 Freeway on the Imperial Highway I found no evidence of violence in that community but what I did see was even more evidence of homelessness to a scale that I found staggering and was barely beginning to comprehend.
Now, I do not know what effect I can have on the issue of homelessness, other than we do give to Habitat for Humanity when we feel we can. And, although none of us can fix the homeless problem alone each of us can be a good neighbor as I was reminded Thursday afternoon on the second floor of the parking structure across from the Juvenile Court. I had opened my car door when a black man about my height and age called out for me to wait. He approached me rapidly causing a twinge of stranger danger, stopped inside my comfort zone, then turned and pointed to the backpack he wore – presumably to let me know he did not have a permanent residence. When he turned back to me with a smile he said: “Today is my birthday. Please, do something nice for me.” I nodded, extracted my wallet, and withdrew a few dollars and gave them to him. His smile was recompense enough but my new friend went to where a car could come around the corner unexpectedly and safely guided me out of my parking space and waved me on my way.
Happy birthday, my friend and neighbor.