Less than two weeks ago, I went back to New York City for my 30th college reunion. I was more interested in reconnecting with my girlfriends than with my college and university, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wave of nostalgia that came over me as I revisited campus and some of my favorite off-campus haunts. This milestone reunion also gave me a chance to look back at a carefree and idealistic version of myself.
One morning as two friends and I were walking the short block from our hotel to the nearest subway station, I glanced to my right and saw a man under a blanket sleeping on the sidewalk up against the side of a building. It was around 11 a.m., the day was well underway, and a food vendor stood at his cart less than twenty feet away from the sleeping man. “How horrible and how nice that no one has checked on this man or shooed him away,” I thought to myself.
On my last subway ride back to my hotel the night before I was scheduled to fly home, a man boarded the train pushing a stroller. He announced that he was visually impaired and was struggling to provide for himself and his son. The toddler in the stroller stared at me, his big round eyes pools of weariness. His little face was dirty, as were his clothes. A tourist sitting across from me handed the man some change and told him, in his Australian accent, to get his son to bed because it was late. The man feebly replied that he was trying to do that.
I’m sure I saw the same types of things when I went to college in New York City back in the 1980’s. Maybe seeing such things made me feel badly for a moment. Now these images won’t leave me. Back then I could hide behind the excuse that I was still a kid and these were adult problems for the adults to worry about. My job was about classes, homework, papers, and exams. It never occurred to me that I would inherit the task of dealing with homelessness, because the grownups would handle it. Thirty-four years after I started college, the issue of homelessness looms over many-most-all big cities in our country; adults have not handled it. There is no shortage of intelligence to harness for solutions, only a shortage of willingness to prioritize solutions and to work together to implement them.
It’s true, school days are to be relished because the grownup world is hard. Adult problems like homelessness, poverty, bigotry, racism, and war seem impossible to fix. I don’t think we’ll fix them until we fix the root of all these problems – adults.
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.