Sunday, May 22, 2011

A matter of life and death

Leaving the San Francisco ArtMarket on Saturday night, I turned down 5th Street to access the I-80 on ramp towards the Bay Bridge.  5th Street, in the SOMA neighborhood (South of Market) is home to many homeless and unfortunate souls.  I sat at the stop light in the safety and comfort of my BMW, listening to Adele belt out the lyrics "we could've had it all" and couldn't help but wonder about each of the people who sat huddled up against the building.  What was their story? There was one woman in particular, skin and bones, and though I'm not a good judge of age, I would guess she had to be in her late 70's.  In just a matter of minutes (the amount of time that it took the light to change from red to green) I saw her young, happy, with a family, and a house. A few pets, maybe kids. What had happened during her lifetime that she now found herself begging for everything from food, drink to large pieces of cardboard? Was it drugs, alcohol, mental illness?  Wasn't there one family member or friend who had a hand to offer, to help pull her up or at least give her a safe place to lay her head at night?

The human will to live is truly amazing.  I find myself questioning though if it is truly our will to live that is so great or is it our fear of dying that is more powerful.  And is it our actual death or the means in which it is delivered to us that we are fearful of?  I know that for me personally, I'm not afraid of dying, but I certainly don't want to jump off a building to do it.  Yes, I can handle the thought of dying if I am one of the lucky ones who "died peacefully in his sleep", and then again, like everyone else, I'm not quite as enamored with it if it comes in a package wrapped with great pain and suffering.

As I drive off, up and over the bridge, with the incredible bay views that hold a distinct air of hope and promise, I wonder if those people have burnt all of their bridges, or did they simply outlive or never have any bridge in the first place.

After much study, it has been determined that most Americans are literally 1 to 2 paychecks away from being homeless. If we don't have money, family or friends, people to help, we too, could find ourselves pushing that old Safeway cart, just walking and walking, looking for a place to rest our blistered feet.  I just know that as I quickly glanced at the lineup of homeless people today, I was hoping that it was hope that kept them here, that they "knew" things were going to get better, that this was a small bump in the road, a temporary setback.  But for many of them, my hope diminished as quickly as they did in my rear view mirror.

The absence of the will to live is, alas, not sufficient to make one want to die."
Michel Houellebecq

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