An afternoon in which I live out our precarious balance

8/31/2016: Jesus. At the Smiths [grocery store] at 9th and 9th, a homeless mom pushing a shopping cart filled with their stuff and her dazed-looking teen son with auburn hair and freckles following her riding his bike, bags hanging from the handlebars and backpack on his back that had a fucking poster sticking out the top of it. 

Oh dear god. I had to sit down on a bench because I was shocked to tears.  Our homeless shelters are currently full so there is nowhere for them to go.

Come fucking on.

How much trauma are we all supposed to bear witness to and still keep ourselves emotionally afloat? Just because we are not walking the streets with our homeless teenagers doesn't mean we aren't gutted when we see it happening to someone else.  

And I was going to go on an epic rant and go off Facebook again because: its me! I know that I'm part of the problem; of course I am; I have to be. Because we are ALL the problem and the solution; that's just the way the balance of the universe works.

But rants and self-flagellation are indulgences when someone else is hungry and a teen boy has to walk the streets with a lifetime of prized possessions sticking out the top of a backpack. So I went to Liberty Park and tried to see if they were there. I had $30, and a kind word. But they weren't there.

Our government SHOULD be our village. But it's not. We are the village. We are the boots on the ground; we are the ones witnessing and experiencing this trauma together. We are the solution.

And if we can't shelter our village in our own home then at least we can shelter them in our own hearts with a kind word, a smile, money, a bag of food, a bottled water, or even a simple blessing said quietly to ourselves that their hard times are bringing to them a future of more infinite joy.

May we all listen to our hearts and heed what it says. Our village needs us.

And to the dear Mother of the red-haired boy: next time I see you, I'll be ready.



Post Script 9/1/2016: I spent about an hour at Liberty Park yesterday, looking for these people, sitting and reflecting.

I don't believe in accidents; I've accepted that Life will include pain and suffering, including my own; I believe that sometimes to get to self-love (which naturally includes love of others too) you have to take a path through dark people and scary times and traumatic events; I know that the journey is fraught because our supposed allies—like religions--tell us foolish things we believe are true, like how inherently selfish it is to put ourselves first (as if being an advocate for ourselves is somehow shameful), which prevents us from adequately using our energy and thoughts so as to become our best selves.

So I knew this experience had occurred to do something for me--to change my thinking, to change who I am. I knew all that.

I just didn’t care.

Because I didn’t want some big bullshit mental pep talk about how wonderful the Universe is and how connected we all are and how pain is such a great teacher.

I didn’t want to get all dreamy and passive and accepting and Love Love Love.

I wanted peace. I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted “basic human nature 101”: release me from this shit right now.

But the experience wasn’t over, for as I sat on a bench at the park, I opened my email and up popped one from a writer friend, telling me that he’d had me in mind when he was stopped by a panhandling couple outside a restaurant, engaged them in conversation, listened to their story, checked for track marks, and handed them money to cover a hostel for a night. He said he’d never usually do that but he felt like reaching out and listening to them was the right thing to do, and the rest just bubbled from there. He also said some other things, and together, it barreled me down until as I got into my car, I was crying with joy.

For his email message received at just that time—when I was low and tenderized, and having just finished writing this emotional Instagram post beseeching us all to see the village that needs us, and to shelter one another with compassion and kindness--was like the universe telling me how much it cared about me, and how much it cares about us all. How—even in the midst of Human Nature 101—the imperceptible connections between us exist, and that Truth is fortunately bigger than me, and doesn’t listen to my discomfort knowing—as it does—the extreme gratitude that is experienced in making the leap from despair to joy.

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Comment by alsoknownas on September 1, 2016 at 10:05am

A beautiful piece Amy.

Of course the universe cares about you. As it should.

That's just part of the Truth.

Comment by Amy Brook Palleson on September 1, 2016 at 10:12am
And I guess it must, sending you here on what is probably a busy morning to read and make your kind comment.

(Namaste, for we are but one).

Thank you.
Comment by Zanelle on September 1, 2016 at 10:24am

What a good read.  I needed to hear your words too.   I gave a dollar to a lady in a storefront last week who was so beautiful and just staring into space, not asking for anything.  I wish I had given her the other dollar I had in my wallet and I beat myself up for that all the way home.  I have a home.  How fortunate I am.  How lucky.

  We are a village but I have to say I dont want to bring people in here to my home and take care of them because it could overwhelm me quickly.  That is what government is for I think.  Our taxes should help people.  I know it feels good to give money but in India my friend gave a line of beggars all some rupees and we were surrounded in seconds by them all and had to get out of there fast.  It was intense.  

   I get overwhelmed easily.  My mom taught me to hunker down and take care of myself.  My kids say I am getting more like her every day.  I dont want to be homeless.  I am so sorry for all the refugees in the world.  Your image of that kid with the poster sticking out of his backpack will be with me awhile.  Thank you.  I wish him and you  the best.  I care too but the intensity of sorrow can be too much sometimes.

Comment by Myriad on September 1, 2016 at 11:51am

A couple of decades ago, when I made a trip to India, someone I met apologized for all the street people.  I said we had them too, which astonished him.  I guess he thought we were all rich.

In India, for good or bad, the situation was accepted and accommodated.  Homeless families set up a home on the sidewalk, lived their lives there out in public, and people just walked by.

The government is supposed to be a communal caring-for, and not just highways and armies.  The American attitude seems to be Drown Government in the Bathtub and individuals just have to look out for themselves, regardless of the wheel of fortune.

Comment by Zanelle on September 1, 2016 at 12:01pm

I remember being in a train station in India and all the well to do people got their change out to give to the beggars they could see approaching.  One said.."This is our welfare system."  It didnt seem to me to be very efficient.  The beggars would come down the aisle of the train and you got your money ready so they would move on otherwise they would linger by your side.  So sad.  

Comment by koshersalaami on September 1, 2016 at 12:43pm

It's not the whole American attitude. It's one major party. And maybe the Libertarians

Comment by Amy Brook Palleson on September 1, 2016 at 1:08pm
This blog is probably sketchy because it was an Instagram post shared to FB that I got attached to. No. My mistake. It was a red-haired boy with a backpack I got attached to.

@Zanelle, I know that your journey has shown you that there are no "right" ways to live life; we all need to honor ourselves by discovering who we are and what our limits are because spending life in service or pretending that the sorrow doesn't affect us or believing that God has all that shit covered is disingenuous. I'm glad you've learned to hunker down and care for yourself; not everyone does or knows how and it's a pretty messed up day when you find out that you've made yourself the underdog in your own life story. I'm speaking of myself here. It's been hard.

I know giving the homeless money isn't the "right" way to do it, and I've argued with my friend Chris about it; he says that we should give freely whenever we feel called to; I said I'm not an unlimited wad of cash, and would squirrel it away so as to donate it via a legit fund or a GoFundMe for women who had kids. Because that was the "right" way. Now though, the homeless are everywhere, our shelters are full, and the government has its head up its ass so the "right" way obviously isn't working, and if my dollar can help someone feel less despair or give them even a little more faith in humanity then that's worth it.

And it's so desperate here that the money is becoming less about them and more about me. A dollar spent keeping the sorrow at bay.

Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments.
Comment by Amy Brook Palleson on September 1, 2016 at 1:29pm
@Myriad: I also had another Instagram/Facebook post a few weeks ago which applies to your last sentence. I saw a homeless man from across the street, took a pic of him struggling to push and pull belongings and stuff he'd gathered, in carts both in front of and behind him, and just went off with this:

"A Nation who can't take care of its citizens is irresponsible.
If a personal household was unable to care for the needs of its members, we would be called on to take action--to rearrange our finances in order to better suit our current situation, suck it up, get another job, or shack up with family we hate, or to suffer the personal consequences of not doing something, like losing our home, succumbing to thievery or addiction/despair, and other personal/financial calamities--but when a nation is unable to care for its citizens, it blames the citizens for personal flaws that have led them to such a plight, then throws fundraisers to try and sustajn their own separate economy by which wealth is redistributed so that no suffering or instability on their end will ever occur.
Whatever ones personal feelings are on social programs--good or bad, governmental or private--there are clearly some existing societal needs which need to be addressed that aren't getting addressed. I took this picture near 5th East and 5th South, but I drive around Salt Lake City all day and see the equivalent of it over and over. All day. Everywhere. Not just downtown. All the fuck over the city. Our shelter is totally full and the "overflow"/winter shelter they normally close in April, had to stay open to accommodate this years increase in vulnerable families, to include children who come to school hungry and tired because the shelter is itself an unstable environment.
This nation is failing its citizens.
This nation is irresponsible.
The wealth inequality in this country have literally made us all hungry and homeless, for we are destitute as a nation if we can allow this immorality to continue."


I believe America is irresponsible and expects more accountability from its citizens that it would ever expect of itself.


Thank you for reading and commenting. My older daughter and her friend were just making plans last night for a trip to India next year (her friend has already been there, so can prepare Julia for what she'll see) so it's interesting that both you and Zanelle have been there and included it in your comments.
Comment by alsoknownas on September 1, 2016 at 1:30pm

As you have noted Amy, the donations are becoming less about them and more about our own need to still feel human and concerned.

I know that when the calling reaches me I still return to my earliest upbringing and want to help. The pittance I might give however is only a Band-Aid for them, but for me, in a selfish way it also serves to make me able to look in the mirror with a retained element of self respect.

I worked at age 6 in a Salvation Army store run by my grandma. I was only around poor people and knew from the get go that we're all in it together. No greater gift could have been bestowed on me at such an early age.

I haven't always felt charity in my heart, but I have always known later when I admitted faltering, that there is goodness in giving, that is bigger than the gift itself.

Lifting despair and inspiring faith in humanity is a righteous goal.

Comment by Rosigami on September 1, 2016 at 1:39pm

You write beautifully, Amy. So full of emotion, with clarity and precision, in prose that more closely resembles poetry. 
Our systems for handling the homeless are messed up. Whatever government and local authorities have available, it is never enough. however many dollars we each part with on the street one afternoon or evening, is a little teeny drop in a great big bucket.
And yet we keep doing it, because we know it's the right thing to do. Not just to make ourselves feel better about what we have, but with as practical a mindset as possible. I can do this much, and I can do it as often as this many times a week a month, a year. 
If we all did that, things might get perceptively better. But we don't, and that's a problem. 

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