Tag Archives: change

Man in the Vestibule

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This photo of homeless protestors outside Sacramento City Hall appeared in an article by Steve Milne in Sacramento Capital Public Radio News on January 26, 2017. 

A homeless man died outside Sacramento City Hall the other night. He was the second man to die outside City Hall in a week. It has been a wet and cold winter so far, and homeless people have left their campsites at the river’s flooded banks. Some of them, like this man, found spaces to sleep under the well-lit overhangs of City Hall.

The paper said the man had nothing but the clothing on his body to keep him warm. This immediately brought me back to a homeless man my husband and I were startled to find sleeping in a parking garage two weeks ago. We had dinner downtown and were returning to our car, parked on the roof of a public parking garage. The elevator doors opened inside a tiny vestibule that offered some shelter from the cold and the rain. Our laughter was abruptly cut short as we stepped out of the elevator and saw a man sleeping on the floor to our right.

The first thing that struck me was how long his body was. He had to curl up into an almost fetal position to fit into the space between the elevator door and the door that led to the garage roof. His face was light tan. His skin was clean and unwrinkled. He was clean-shaven and handsome. His black hair was streaked with long strands of white. His pants and coat were dark.

I didn’t want to wake him. It was well before 8 p.m., but how was I to know if this would be the only rest he would get that night? I didn’t stand over him and stare – it felt invasive to catch the glimpse that I did – but I saw so much in the few seconds it took me to walk past him.

“He had nothing,” I said to my husband when we were a few steps beyond the door that led out to the roof. “He had no blanket, no backpack, no bags. Nothing.”

And then came the silence in the car as we tried to process what we just saw. Wrestling with helplessness and guilt, we started to make our way down to the first floor of the garage. We spotted a young man carrying a broom and a dustpan. The wet spots and smell of urine in the elevator when we arrived; the wet, washed floor of the elevator when we were leaving; the man sleeping in the vestibule; and the anxious look on the attendant’s face as we passed him – it all made sense. Would the police come to escort the homeless man from the garage if the attendant called? Would the attendant let the man sleep there as long as no one complained?

I felt sad when I read about the second homeless man to die outside City Hall in a week’s time, but the sight of that man sleeping in the vestibule that night was personal. If you don’t want to be racked by helplessness and guilt, look away from the homeless. But if, like me, you happen to glance at a homeless person and see this person – really see this person – you’re screwed. You might be haunted into action.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

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The Quiet Blast

Dreams

Dreams are the unconscious mind’s way of expressing thoughts and emotions that are unprocessed or suppressed by the conscious mind. Because of this, dreams are believed to reveal the secret fears and yearnings of the heart.

A few weeks ago, I had a dream of a perfect moment in time. My dream was the antithesis of a nightmare; it was serene. It has haunted me since the moment I woke up.

I was in the middle of a trial. (I’m a lawyer – a real-life one, not just in my dream). Everything was going my way: I was drawing no objections, and the judge was quiet and attentive (not on his laptop or napping). I was working and thinking at a comfortable pace, unhurried and unflappable. I laid foundations for testimony and exhibits in textbook fashion and with the poise of a seasoned attorney. Anticipating objections and arguments from opposing counsel, I made preemptive moves as if a “Law and Order” writer had scripted them. Witnesses answered only questions asked; I knew all their answers in advance; and all the audio-visual equipment worked perfectly so my visual aids appeared in their full cinematic glory.

As I watched myself in the courtroom, I was aware of thinking to myself. I was cognizant of this question running through my mind: On this perfect day of practicing law, when everything is going your way, and you’re impressing everyone who sees you, are you happy? Like the answers of the witnesses in my dream, my answer was no surprise. “No,” I thought. I saw my face register no reaction to my answer; the Me in my dream was not privy to the dialogue in her own head.

The next morning, I felt doomed. If I couldn’t be happy as a lawyer in the perfect moment captured in my dream… My reasons for continuing to practice law, though valid and practical, had morphed into excuses against moving forward. I had lodged a boulder in my own path. I couldn’t see around it or over it, and it pinned me in place, but it also protected me from the unknown.

Sometimes a boulder can’t be moved, so it has to be blasted out of the way. My heart spoke a dream to blast the boulder out of my path, but will I move?

 

© Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Shedding Labels

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When I became an empty nester, a long and happy chapter of my life ended. I miss my kids all the time, but what’s even harder is figuring out what new directions to take and what new things to add to my life. While I had kids at home, the structure of schedules and rules limited my options. Nurturing children left little to no time for focusing on who I am and what I want. I’m not the same person I was before I had kids, so it’s not as simple as reverting to an old version of myself.

One of the vestiges of my child-rearing days is a set of plastic plates – unbreakable, inexpensive, whimsically decorated dishes that we used out on the patio or in the family room in front of the TV. When all our “real” Pottery Barn dishes are dirty and the dishwasher isn’t full enough to run, I’ll reach for a plastic plate. I’m not picky. At least, I didn’t use to be.

Last week I reached into the cupboard for a plastic plate and felt repulsed by the feeling of plastic in my hand. It was thin and hollow. It lacked substance and weight. My aesthetic sensibilities, awakened suddenly and offended at the same time, demanded the feel of cool, smooth porcelain.

I banished the kid-friendly plates to a lower cabinet with the picnic ware and told my husband about my new aversion to plastic plates. He failed to appreciate the significance of the moment – I had become too good for plastic plates – and nonchalantly reminded me that I purged plastic cups from our kitchen some time ago.

This weekend I found myself at an upscale store where childfree people perused beautiful and expensive dishes, glassware, cookware, and linen. I fell in love with thick, heavy dishes adorned with blue fleurs-de-lis and didn’t let myself wrestle with guilt over the price. These were serious, grownup dishes befitting an adult with no children at home to break plates. These were my coming-out dishes. They would announce to the world that I can have nice and impractical things in my house, and I can use them every day with reckless abandon.

It seems a little pathetic that I had to give myself permission to buy new dishes simply because I was sick of plastic plates. My guess is that I’ve been changing and growing without realizing it, and I want my surroundings to reflect this. The label “empty nester” also seems a little pathetic, so maybe I’ll pack this away with my plastic plates. Here’s to finding out who I am without the labels “Mom,” “Parent,” or “Empty Nester.”

 

© Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015.