I drive past a long, snaking line of bedraggled men. Oversized rags drape from their shoulders, hunched against a grey, cold weekday afternoon. It’s peak traffic. I’m hurrying to take my daughter to a mass choir and orchestra event where they will celebrate their school’s 150th birthday. The many rehearsals have interfered with my planning. My mind is racing through what I will dish up for dinner, what work I have left undone and other pressing matters.
Seeing homeless people has become part of the aching reality of living under the mountain, especially since the pandemic. Sometimes you don’t notice them anymore. On my way back, I pass the men again and notice that they are waiting on that pavement for food. Their despondent postures speak of the shame of being deprived of dignity. My racing thoughts stop dead for a moment in the face of their unspeakable sorrow.
But soon the traffic light turns green, and I return to my decisions about dinner. I decide to pop into the local garage shop for ready-made meals. I grab a few items, gasping at the price of convenience food, before joining the long line of tired, after-work shoppers. In their baskets, most carry a few items costing more than the government grant that those men will receive for an entire month. I survey their postures and demeanours. I’m struck by the similarity of the postures and the dull look of despair on faces.
You would expect a stark difference. After all, the plight of the homeless is much worse than the plight of those in my queue. They’re battling to survive. We, on the other hand, are ostensibly beyond survival. But it speaks to how we view our problems. Somehow, those with enough money to stand in the queue to buy non-essentials and convenience food, are overwhelmed. Still in survival mode. To the point that their plight seems to infect their internal being and posture much the same as those without homes, work or even food.
I struggle to make sense of how the two can actually be similar. Although I understand the phrase ‘everything is relative’ there are simple, hard facts that make them not similar. It gives me pause and forces me to look up. It makes me rethink my challenges around dinner, school life and unfinished work. I realise that this moment has given me an opportunity to review my daily challenges in the light of my good fortune. I stand in the queue and wish everyone there could share in this realisation.
In South Africa, these moments pass us by daily. They are a chance to gain perspective on all those things that seem so important that they make us feel threatened enough to look despairing. It gives us a chance to stand back and gain perspective.
Ps. I love to hear your comments. If you are not on our mailing list, you can subscribe to receive this blog every week on our website www.foundationsa.com.
//26 August 2022.