By Lupita Peimbert. @Lupitanews.
On a Bart train this morning, going from San Francisco to Oakland, and full with young people going downtown, we all had this unexpected experience. The passengers had to share the air and the space inside that particular car, with two men smelling badly, as in urinated pants and dirty clothes; the stench of inequality permeating the ride to work.
I was as guilty as many, for the immediate reaction of not wanting to deal with people trying to survive the harsh realities of inequality; I was also stricken with sadness for the two men, and for not knowing what to do.
Everybody kept it cool either because it was the politically correct thing to do, or perhaps because deep inside, young people with good jobs in San Francisco are not as superficial as their critics perceive them to be.
One of the men was apparently sleeping over two seats, covered from head to toe by a blanket. The odor was obvious. The other one was sleeping too. The urine-like stink was first felt abruptly the moment one entered the car, and the whiff stayed all the way in. He had taken two seats as well, right by the door, and had put a bunch of plastic bags with stuff, his belongings, one can assume.
While trying to make sense of my own thoughts and feelings, my eyes observed around. Some of the passengers seemed quietly disgusted, others looked slightly uncomfortable. Most of them, though, showed some form of empathy or compassion either by a look of sorrow, a hint of empathy, and a respectful, obvious move to the side while passing by either one of the men, towards the door at the station they were going to.
It was all done in silence. The profuse, unpleasant smell didn’t stop. After a while, some of us exited the car and entered the next one, relieved from the smell, and momentarily away from these harsh realities.
And that is the point of this writing: that we cannot pretend to not look or stay away from poverty and homelessness. Similarly, I’d like to think that most people want to know that other people have a place to wash themselves or take care of a human being’s primary needs. And yet, when we are forced by chance to having to face these harsh realities, most of us want to quickly run away.
What would you have done?
Well, because they were sleeping, I would have left them alone. If awake, I may have offered a coffee or to buy a meal. My husband and I do this often. I have had people tell me I am a sucker to help people that way because they “choose to live that way” or “they are cons” – but that is between them and their maker. I am just doing something out of kindness for another human being.