My dearest Nora, wherever thou mayst roam,
Consider me sufficiently humbled. I spent the better part of this morning volunteering at a soup kitchen/clothes depot. Having never done anything like this before, I wasn't sure what to expect and was knocked for a loop. Some of the most pitiful creatures walking the earth came waltzing in today and as I did what I could to direct them to the kinds of clothes they were seeking and making sure their dining needs were met, the most peculiar feeling of complete helplessness overcame me. Knowing full well that it wouldn't do a stitch of good for rectifying the situations of these folks, I wanted to open my (mostly empty) wallet to them. I wanted to do something, anything, to rescue them from squalor. I wanted to cure mental illness, cure addictions, provide jobs, shelter, transportation, extraordinary medical care, education, dot dot dot.
What really caught me off guard is the large number of "customers" who were quite obviously in need of psychiatric care. Many a time I've heard that a large portion of the homeless are those who suffer from untreated mental illness, and it sounded like a reasonable statistic, but I viewed the situation in much same way that a person relates to news that thousands died as a result of a typhoon on the other side of the world. It's a troubling thought, but difficult to feel any deep, personal emotion over. The obvious effects of drug use were also quite apparent among many of the guests.
One man in particular singled me out and spent over an hour talking with me. I first noticed a little paranoia, in the form of constantly scanning the room, as if he were potential prey uneasy about edging up to a watering hole. As we spoke, I was stricken by the man's intelligence and vocabulary. Obviously a learned man. What went wrong? After twenty minutes, I noticed something else amiss, what with the way he was unable to remain on a particular topic for more than a minute. It was a little tough keeping up. Then, I noticed two spots on his forearm, which upon first glance, looked like strangely misshapen tattoos. I soon got a good look at them, and it appeared to me to be a combination of scar tissue indicative of a severe burn and some kind of infection. Maybe an intravenous drug user? Don't know. He mentioned several particulars of his life (hard-luck stories), and mentioned a previous career. His stated previous profession didn't quite match up with the overall picture I was getting of this guy, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and we carried on. When another volunteer joined the conversation, the subject of work was brought up again. He again mentioned his previous employer, and an inquiry was made as their location. He mentioned it was in a nearby town...and said that it was shut down by the feds not long after he left. Convenient. I then began to wonder how many of the other quite believable items he'd mentioned were grounded in any sort of truth. It was hard to relinquish those thoughts and just listen, because he seemed so desperate for someone to listen. So, that's what I did, until he had a mind to leave about half an hour later. He left in high spirits, thanking me for the conversation several times. He did most of the talking, which was fine, because I was at a loss to come up with anything. A crisis emerged in my mind.
I don't know what to say to these people!
I've spent so much time engaged in conversation about subjects related to my major, to the majors of others, our aspirations to be doctors...all sorts of things in "privileged" society. I found myself wanting to ask these folks about the past, before things went south for them, but I wondered in how many cases that "before" meant prior to conception. I also wanted to be considerate to their feelings now and not make them get stuck on how good things used to be, potentially putting them in a blue mood. This is a matter of great concern for me, because I do plan to donate my services to the uninsured (if such a thing exists by the time I'm a doctor...and I hope, desperately hope, that it doesn't)...how can I get them to keep up maintenance on themselves and trust that what I'm telling them is for their own good, if I can't first make them feel comfortable and erase some of those (mostly imagined) boundaries between us? Continual exposure is the only prescription I can imagine, which is good, because it's what I've planned on, anyhow.
As I was leaving, a lady was exiting the clothing depot with a bagful of items. She very nearly hit me with the door, and when our eyes met...instant recognition. I had worked with her several years ago, and we'd gotten along quite well...to the point where I found myself rather attracted to her. It was not a romance that would ever come to be, however, for she was separated from an abusive husband...definitely not the kind of situation in which I would want to become involved. Today, she was a far cry from the mildly physically attractive woman I knew so many years ago. Her face seemed a little sunken in, she had a bad dye job on a somewhat untamed head of hair, some teeth were missing...some were golden. I knew she had children and I wonder whatever became of them. I wondered what happened to her to bring her to this condition. Anyhow, I mentioned that I remembered her from The Business For Which We Both Once Worked, Inc., and I don't know if it was shame or honestly not remembering, but she gave the, "Oh, heeeeeeey! Good to see you! Gotta go!" bit. I felt guilty for saying hi just in case she was embarrassed, but I reasoned that I had done it in a very friendly, excited manner...but you never know what is on the minds of others.
What an end.
What a world.
May the grace of He keep you always,