I live in a strange city. It is framed by mountains. Edged by ocean. Cleansed by frequent rains. It is stunningly beautiful and increasingly inaccessible. Too expensive for almost everyone. It has definite boundaries. Not so much a rich/poor division. But absolute areas of wealth and privilege. And areas of absolute not. This used to be a pure east, west divide but that has blurred. Everywhere is expensive and the gentrification has pushed into areas once ignored and avoided.
Now there are small pockets. Pieces of the city where addiction, pain and damage reign supreme. Places where you either don’t look or you don’t know. Places where many don’t go if they don’t have to. Places we pretend aren’t there.
One intersection is infamous. Main and Hastings. Pick a corner and you can find lots of things; many you don’t want to find. Of course you see what you perceive. Some see addicts and crime and various unsavoury elements of the human condition. A place of fear and danger. Others see addiction and pain and vulnerability. A place of inequity and need. Some people avert their eyes. Others stare in disbelief.
Every time I pass, I search. I look for what I never want to see: past students now on the streets. Current students in unsafe situations. This corner is not far from where I teach. It is the not too distant past of many of our families. If has lures still faintly planted in dangerous and precarious ways.
This morning, I went by on the bus before 7:30 a.m. on the way to a literacy conference. Much of the city was still quiet and empty. Not here. There were people everywhere. As usual, I scanned the corners, the streets and nearby alleys, focussed on what I didn’t want to find. Quickly relieved, I allowed myself to absorb the details of what I saw. To just notice.
What I found was not what I expected. I worried about danger and risk but I saw gentle and kind and tenderness.
An old grandpa walked steadily behind his young grandson who ran in circles ahead and back. He had his grandfather’s cane and he waved it wildly through the air giggling. He roared into circles of pecking pigeons, scattering them briefly before they settled down again. He garnered smiles from a toothless woman teetering against a building. His grandpa engaged him in chatter and reprimands. He smiled big and bright, spreading morning sunshine as he ran.
An old man was supported by a younger woman hardly steadier or stronger to walk down the street. They leaned into each other, needing to stop but carrying on. Her right arm stretched out to balance them as she teetered on too high heels. Too high for morning. Too high for walking. Just fine for helping.
Three figures huddled around a doorway where someone had camped out, still partially prone under a sleeping bag. Shopping bags filled with belongings were stashed against a wall. The four of them spoke intently and I watched ever so briefly as 2 coffee cups were passed back and forth, steam still rising.
I looked to see what I didn’t want to see. I found what I didn’t expect. Of course, it’s there. The connection, the care, the living. My fear occupies such a large space, it wasn’t allowing me to see it.
But eyes on the corner, judgement to the side, I was humbled.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.
WOW. This is beautiful, and reminds me strongly of Last Stop on Market Street.
I’ll take the WOW and that compliment. Whoa! Thank you.
Carrie — Your writing is so beautiful. The way you described Vancouver in the first paragraph helped me understand that’s what happened there is similar to what’s happened in NYC.
You weren’t looking for beauty in the darker corners of the City, but you found it… Just like CJ’s Nana encouraged him to do in Last Stop on Market St. This is a wonderful lesson for us all.
Thank you Stacey. I am learning a lot participating in this challenge. I didn’t think at all about Market Street as I wrote this but how I love that book. I have read it with my students multiple times.
I look for what I never want to see
I see what I never wanted to know
I know what I never wanted to hear
I hear what I never wanted to see
And in the midst of all this unseeing
I come to understand the world
in all of its chaotic turning,
so that I may open my eyes
-Kevin, lifting a line to make a poem as comment
Yep! You got it. Love your comments Kevin. Each one is a gift.
This piece made me ponder so many things. The inequity and messiness that is life.
I am pleased that it had that impact.
We can’t have the bad without the good. Human beings will find a way to comfort each other. I think this is why people like Ghandi and Mother Teresa were able to do what they do. For the golden glimpses streaming through the misery.
Yes – we do seek to comfort and we need to notice when that happens and realize how connected all of us are.
This is lovely.
Thank you Karla
This post is “The Last Stop on Market Street” profound. I serve at a food bank every Tuesday. What you describe is what I see. Real people. Real love. Real lives.
When we are giving and noticing we can open up to a lot of humanity.
Noticing details without judgment is something important to teach our children. When people look, they do not “see”. You’ve shown that there is another way to look. It’s a caring story, and I hope you never see students on your ride.
I hope this same thing every time.
Loved the way this turned from the ugly parts of life to the gentle, caring aspect that is always there, if you look close enough. Simply a beautiful piece! Every word so carefully written.
Thank you for your continued encouragement Elsie.
You write so beautifully from the depths of your heart.
That means a lot to me from you Terje. Your writing always inspires me.
Carrie, Thank you for this profound tour through your city. So haunting. Your eyes saw and shared beauty that many would not see. Thank you.
Thank you for reading Julieanne. So many people in this city refuse to even acknowledge that this area exists.
This is a beautiful piece Carrie! A heartfelt piece, for sure. I like the idea of setting judgement to the side and really looking, not only at what we want to see, but more importantly, at what we don’t want to see. Thanks for sharing.
Robin, thank you for your comment. Putting aside our judgement is something we all need to practice.
This post is so beautiful. And you are right. When we look past our own fear and put judgement aside, we find that there are common threads that tie us together. We all love. We all laugh. We all fear. We are all human. Thank you for this today.
I am so pleased you feel how important connection is too Julie.