Torture IS a moral issue, but so is homelessness
15th Street Meetinghouse Photo Lorcan Otway
As I contemplate the banner in front of our Meetinghouse which reads, "Torture is a Moral Issue" I worry that we might find it easier to deal with the wrongs of others, distant wrongs, then to deal with the wrongs we do, the wrongs done directly in our name.
The post before this one, I wrote about an incident which happened last First Day, concerning a man without a home, who was crying in fear because our Meeting's employee had thrown away all his possessions. I also posted the writing to our Meetings google group. Interestingly enough, there was no discussion about it on the google group. Two Friends did write to me, their comments were both thankful for the piece, and commented on a glaring misspelling (now corrected).
However, as a Meeting, when George W Bush commits an outrage, we can assume there will be a minute at business meeting, a banner proclaiming our sentiments in front of the Meetinghouse... finger pointing.
There have been times I have travelled rough - always knowing that months away was a warm bed and a home. I cannot say I know fully the experience of hopelessness that must accompany the knowledge that the cold, the wet clothes, the distrust of settled people will be my whole life, but, I can say that my own indelible fear of being homeless comes from the physical memory of holes in my shoes on rain pouring on my head and many miles stretching out before me.
It might be just that, a physical memory of hardship, or perhaps Friend John Maynard's influence when I was young, his witness which led me to get to know my neighbors who do not have a place to sleep, which leads me to get to know these folks by name - their real names, as well as their nick names, all their names other than "bum."
I am ashamed to say, I feel a bit selfish to say that these friendships have often proved valuable to me. I have learned so much, American Indian treaty law from Dan Charging Hawk, a Lakota brother of mine who died on the street several years ago. I learned recipes from Patrick, an Indonesian sailor and cook, who was set on fire and killed as he slept ten feet from my doorway. I learned some part of the Dene, or Navajo language from Mat Benally, who died on the street where he lived, a wall next to my home. I still tell the stories and jokes I heard from former child actor, Broadway Bob, who I watched live out his old age, and die, without a home in my neighborhood. I learned a lot from Vinnie Harquail. He was a Micmac native from Brunswick. He played a great Scottish folk harmonica. He had a style I never heard before or since, playing counterpoint rhythms out of the other side of his mouth. I learned a lot about forgiveness from him. One day, from my window, I saw a policeman fling him off the doorstep across the street, and hit him on his arm with his nightstick so hard, I heard the crack four flights up. Vinnie got to his feat, and looked at the fellow, shock his head sadly and walked away. From Vinnie I learned first hand about Anna Mae Aquash, the Micmac woman who founded the survival schools and led Vinnie and twenty some Micmacs to Wounded Knee in 1973. And, I watched Vinnie slowly eaten away by cancer on the street next to my home. I learned of the Yippee supporters of the Black Panthers from Russell, who died an agonizing death from gangrene there, next to my home. I received applause at concerts for a song I wrote, from the story of Bobby, a gunnery sergeant who was awarded the Silver Star, and who died alone on the street outside my door. I could go on for chapters... Nancy who kept me laughing through the night in a hospital waiting room, perhaps the same one she died alone within, Maggie, Billy, Merrith Stops-at-pretty-places ... each one of these friends now only a treasured memory.
For some people, their fear, their disgust, their heartless pity for these people is answerable only by pushing them away. The same people who would grant sanctuary to the victim of the wrongs of governments fear granting sanctuary to the victims of our own success and comfort. For me, it is a moral issue, as much as torture is a moral issue, as it is the torture not caused in our name, but the torture to which we contribute in our fears and failings.
I find the response that some choose to be homeless, as hollow as the response to our objection to torture, that in a dangerous world where people seek to hurt us, we must hurt others to gain information to keep us safe. The lesson of the Hebraic roots of our faith is that we do not do wrong because another has done wrong, nor do we do right only to those who do right, if we are to walk with righteousness before our God. We do right for the sake of right.
Certainly the answer to homelessness is not to have our gates open to those sleeping rough. But, perhaps what we learn from not closing that gate, might teach us a way to end the moral failing of a nation with so many with no roof over their heads.
Bobby - Photo Lorcan Otway
Matt Benali - Vinny Harquail - Bobby Hill - photo Lorcan Otway
A pal and Vinnie - Photo Lorcan Otway
Dan Charginghawk when he had a home with his wife Tina and son Fourwinds - Genie and Lorcan Otway - Photo Jon Hutson