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2011-02-12: Confession of a Bystander

I only take my family sometimes to Washington D.C. just for dinner because I hate driving in the city.  I dislike the city for its crime, social and political problems.  I don’t care much about what’s going on there – both in terms of the federal government and the city itself.  It is called the most powerful city in the world!  But why do I care?  That’s why I live in Northern Virginia.  I don’t like crowded places so I choose to view the city from afar.

But my opinions about that city have changed a little bit since I started working there.  I realize that, by generalizing the city is full of crimes, federal government bureaucracy, political partisanship, I have neglected to appreciate many good things the city possesses – its many historic buildings, museums, and - if nothing at all - the cherry blossoms.

However, one sad aspect of any big city is the gap between the rich and the poor is in full display.  And now I can see one up close, with my own eyes, on a daily basis.  The have and the have-not live just around the corner from each other.

When it’s not my turn to drive for my carpool group, I usually ask the guys to drop me off at the Smithsonian metro station so I can walk the next 3 blocks to my building.  I prefer to walk because it is the only exercise I have everyday in the wintertime.  Walking in sub-freezing temperature early in the morning on cold winter days not only wakes me up but also gives me appreciation for what I have, as compared to the homeless people living on the streets around Washington D.C.  Here I am, dressed in several layers of clothing but I am still cold.  Imagine what those people feel like!  My wife often wonders why they choose to live that way and why they don’t seek for shelter.

I am not a psychologist - in fact I probably need a head exam myself for what I have done or written about - but I think those people suffer some kind of mental problem, some possibly from having been involved in a war or from a traumatic event previously in their life.  They apparently don’t hold a job and therefore cannot afford housing, but they won’t accept communal living, either.  Once they probably lived a “normal” life just like me, but now they don’t trust anybody else in this world but themselves.  How do they survive in harsh conditions like that?  The way they live resembles the way our pre-historic men lived.  Mal-nutrition.  No protection from nature.  Their goal is probably very simple: to survive until the next day, which include a place to sleep at night, in a very cold place outside, under the bridge, and a couple meals a day to fill their stomach, a “meal” they likely dig out from a trash can or from left-over someone neglects to throw away, or if lucky enough, a cheap meal purchased with the few dollars they receive from pan-handling.

More than likely, they don’t dream of expensive cars, big houses, or fancy dinners like many of us do.  Their life possessions include just a few articles of clothing and a few blankets, all stuffed in a big backpack.  Simple living or living a condemned life, one may ask!  They may not even carry any form of IDs with them or may not even remember their real name.  It is sad but could be true that some of them may be labeled John or Jane Doe one day when their body is found on some corner of the street because their next of kin cannot be located or, worse yet, nobody wants to claim them.  Cause of death: hypothermia or heart attack!

Talking about different perspectives in life!