Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Invisibility

I had a lesson in invisibility last night. 

I was coming home late from the Learning Factory and decided to stop to pick up some things at my local Puget Sound-based consumer cooperative grocery store for some comestibles. 

There is a Food Bank bin next to the front door of the store and as I passed through it I noticed someone digging through it. Upon closer examination I realized that this man was homeless—ripped running shorts, no shoes and beat-up feet, wild and unkempt hair. 

People entering and leaving the store looked right at him, then right through him, and then around at everybody else as if somehow sharing a secret. I went into the store and did my shopping. It took 10 minutes or so.

The homeless man was still methodically digging through the bin as I got into the checkout line. I watched him and decided to get him a hamburger from the hot case. 

On my way out I stopped, pulled out the burger, and asked "Sir, would you like a hamburger?" He paused imperceptibly and then kept on digging. I asked again. He began digging harder and then simply packed up his things and hurried away leaving me with the burger. 

The shoe was on the other foot. 

I became the invisible one in a nation that seems to have accepted mass homelessness as a feature of the environment. 

Was his response his way of taking back some power or an expression of embarrassment over this charity? Perhaps he was surprised that someone "saw" him or thought I was yelling at him or about to get him in trouble. Maybe it was just "pay back"?

I'll probably never know . . .

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