This morning, as usual, we went downstairs at our church for the usual coffee and donuts. (Our place is the Basilica of St. Mary’s at the near edge of downtown Minneapolis – it is a downtown parish – a place of diverse sorts of people.)
I got my coffee and donut and saw a lady sitting at a table by herself. “Mind if we join you?” I asked. “Fine”, she said. She was well-dressed, looking to be in later middle age, with what appeared to be a nice piece of luggage on one of those portable pull carts.
Making small talk, I said, “it looks like you’re traveling“. It was a somewhat obvious observation. We’re an easy and safe walk to the convention center, and the church gets lots of visitors.
Probably she had been to some conference, and was taking in Mass before catching a cab for the airport….
She didn’t respond to me. She finished her coffee, got up abruptly, and then very angrily said “if it makes any difference, I’m retired and I’m homeless.” Apparently there had been some court case in New York which she had lost. She stormed off to wherever, with no chance for us to say anything, as if she would have wanted us to say anything. There are times when less is best.
Two other people had joined us by then. It was a puzzling happening for all of us.
There is a “profile” of homeless. We see lots of homeless in this social gathering hall after Mass. But they LOOK like homeless are “supposed” to look. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but mostly these folks, mostly men, sometimes a few women, stand out from the usual crowd. This lady didn’t look homeless, not in the least. But apparently she was.
As I write, before noon on this same day, I’m just beginning to process what I just experienced.
In a surface sense, everything in our society, at this moment, looks sort of normal. Even with high unemployment, 91% of us are making a living (85% if you throw in the people who have given up on looking for work.)
It is easy to pretend that there is no underclass, inexorably increasing.
We’re in a family that is experiencing the creeping problem of unemployment within our own family circle. Makes it much harder NOT to notice….
Beyond the rhetoric, somewhere as I type, is this attractive well-dressed older woman pulling her luggage, and carrying a back pack.
It is certain she wasn’t being facetious.
What is her story, I wonder.
Where will she be tonight, this coming week, this winter, next year?
I think I know what I’ll be thinking about on this walk I’m about to take.
What lessons can be learned, and applied to our ever meaner society?