Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Poverty I

11.22.06; 6:38 PM [original post]

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

I've been doing a bit of roaming around Flickr lately, seeing some random things, some crazy things, some beautiful things - and some amazing things, like the picture to the left, taken from Tom Stone's photostream. The following is taken from his website: i photograph people who skirt the edges of things; people whose connection to the broader flow is murky or obscured. mistaken as more, less or different than they are; they aren’t really seen and don’t really belong. that’s everyone sometimes; but some more often. i try to establish a line for a moment. i hope to connect. and i see the most beautiful and the most heartbreaking things.

Looking at his photographs, I agree. Some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking things in the world are captured in his camera and uploaded onto his Flickr account. On the main page of his website, right above his own words that I've quoted here, he's compared to the likes of Dorothea Lange - among others - but that comparison holds significance for me because she's the only name I recognized. I've seen her photographs from the Depression, but this hits closer to home,
why? Because it is closer to home. The people he photographs, he met somewhere 30-45 minutes away from me. People I may have seen and forgotten, people I, too, wanted to capture somehow and show to the world, and say "Look here, you - these people have it so much worse. Still feel like complaining about the cost of gas? Still want to rant about taxes? Still worried about that extra few bucks spent here or there, or the few lost, still think that the most important thing in the world is the stores not carrying your favorite shade of lipstick, or not getting the first PS3 to be released? Still matter to you, huh? Look at them! Look at them and tell me - are your little problems still the most painful and heartwrenching in the world?"

In the moment of silence following this violent outburst of thought, I
look inside myself, past my shyness and unwillingness to cause my fellow human beings to feel objectified, and realize I'm yelling at none other than myself. What is it that sets 'them' apart from 'me'? Money? psh.

But yeah.. maybe, for once.. money is what it's all about.

Here's what Mr. Stone says:

To my thinking, the original human trauma is our separation. We are too close not to need each other; and too far to trust each other. We rely on dubious senses and clever devices to interact; but we are alone in our thoughts. Lonely, insecure and uncertain; we pair, we group, we associate. We try to belong and we seek to exclude. We form bonds by geography, religion, economy and otherwise. But it is all precarious. We come together and we drive apart.

And we climb our ladder. We step away from those who don’t belong and help those who do. We are connected rung by rung – though less and less – as we push and pull. But some do not climb; and below, the earth is littered with them. They fit too poorly. They stand apart. They stand without.

And what of them; these ones who don’t belong
or who are excluded; who don’t fit or don’t try? Is there nothing they value? Is there nothing of them we value? I count it as a measure of our ignorance, the depth of poverty in the world. It’s a glaring marker to how far we have not come. Yet it has also driven our advance; on less fortunate backs and against less fortunate fate.

But is there really no connection there? Does such fate – whether choice or circumstance – speak nothing of us? Tell me we do more than advance in place; with so many left behind. Or promise me we can do better. Say we can reflect ourselves; us and them... That we can see the ways we overlap and distinguish the ways we grow apart. And pledge that we can learn; to fit all of our misshapes; to reward value beyond charity and beyond the marketplace; to be better to each other; to be better ourselves. And promise me it could be a better world. Or tell me we are at our best.


10.23.07; 9:53 AM

I suppose I could have waited a month and made it a full year, huh? b Bhenji saw this post when I accidentally published it to my blog instead of saving it as a draft. Then I hid it again and ran off to India. Then I came back and ditched my bloggie.

Anyway, back to the main point. Those last two sentences are so striking. Is he really asking all that much from us, the people of the world? I honestly don't think so, but I bet I still won't do much.

Ever since I was a child, I've always gravitated toward the homeless as well as the topic of homelessness. Lots of things have happened between that time and now - I've met different people, encountered different viewpoints on so-called 'charity', and also seen many pictures and read many stories. Only once in my life so far have I walked up to a homeless person and asked him if I could take a picture - and even then only because he was sitting there next to the water with his friend and playing a Harmonica, surrounded by seagulls that seemed to be listening closely. I've never shared that photograph with anyone.

As I mentioned above, I guess to me it's like I'm objectifying them {gah! I'm beginning to hate that word.. 'them'. And 'us'. bleah.}. I feel like I want to photograph panhandlers and homeless people for the wrong reason, but I'm not even sure what the right reason is.

Seeing work like Tom Stone's, though, just makes me want to do something. Maybe that's the right reason. If so, I don't need to jump on a bandwagon. I should let the real people with the good intentions do what they're doing, and in turn support them and do what I can. That's the point here. If we could just take some time out of being so concerned for ourselves and our own satisfaction and happiness and well-being and so forth, if we could just look at others with compassion, if we could worry about the world - and truly worry about the world, not something like "Global warming! What's going to happen to me?" - just for a minute, it would make a difference. Thinking about it, really thinking about the situation, would want to make us do something, wouldn't it? It does me, at least.

So many people are under the misconception that homeless people are homeless by choice. I've heard it so many times before, and I read someone's post in a discussion for my online class just last week, saying something similar to this: "If they would just get a job or stop being lazy, then they wouldn't be homeless anymore".

Is it really that easy? Try getting rid of all your money, all your clothes, all your other material possessions, everything but the clothes on your back, and maybe add a child. Now try to get back to where you were before.

On top of which, about 20-25% of the homeless in America suffer from some sort of debilitating mental 'defect' {according to http://www.nationalhomeless.org/ - it's a really good site to learn more about homelessness, the law concerning the homeless, and how our government and social welfare institutions deny the homeless any kind of treatment or care on a regular basis. Also visit http://www.bringingamericahome.org/}.

How's that for living on the street by choice.

I used to think that when I grew up, I'd take homeless people into my home one by one, get them enrolled in high school or college {whichever it is they need}, help them get a job, some sort of housing, etc. You know, get them started until they can stand on their own two feet. I'd have to be a little rich, but eh.. I guess this is a good reason to want money.

Then, I don't know what happened. All of a sudden I started questioning if this was a good idea. I can already imagine the kind of reaction I'd get from my parents or any Aunty/Uncle if I were to share this idea with anyone 'offline'.

But somethingggggg let's do something! Dooooo somethinggggggg.

Yeah, a kind of stupid end to what started out as a serious, thought-out, and almost well written post {most of the words were his, so I'm allowed to say that =p}. I guess I'm slightly distracted by my loudly grumbling tummy.

Imagine that. I'm worried about my grumbling tummy when so many people have to live with grumbling tummies daily.

Now I'm sad.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh


All of the photographs used in this post were taken from Tom Stone's Flickr photostream with his permission to blog his work. They can be found here among his other work: lord take me away, Beavis, institutionalized.

Mr. Stone can be contacted at: tom[at]tomstonegallery[dot]com