Letters for the week of February 24, 2021
Once we were the United States
For the past few years oligarchs on the right and anarchists on the left have turned father against mother, brother against sister, child against parent, neighbor against neighbor, and Christian against Christ.
Seems that now 57 percent of Republicans consider Democrats “enemies” rather than “political opposition,” and 41 percent of Democrats consider Republicans “enemies” rather than “political opposition,” according to a CBS poll.
Neither the rich nor the lawless can win this fight on the basis of right, or education, or law, so they must club their enemies with propaganda, interest rates, private armies and sedition.
Is there any way Americans can learn to love their neighbors once again?
—Kimball Shinkoskey, Woods Cross, Utah
A week ago I sent a letter to the editor of Cascadia Weekly, voicing my reaction to a local homeless camp that I viewed as an appalling eyesore and a defilement of the neighborhood. Although I believe my point was fair—that all of us as citizens have an obligation to be good neighbors and to obey the law—my tone probably came off as unsympathetic. Consequently, I emailed the editor and asked him not to publish my comments. A friend, who had read my letter, declared that it wouldn’t be published anyway because I had offered no solutions.
My decision to cancel the letter followed subsequent visits to the camp.
The first visit occurred when I took four lamb-stuffed bell peppers there one cold, gray afternoon. I had warmed them up, added disposable utensils, and offered the food to a young man I saw walking on a sidewalk near the camp.
“Do you live here?” I asked.
The young man, maybe in his late teens, replied in the affirmative. He was polite and appreciative. He could have been any of the young men I had taught in my high school English classes.
“I hope you won’t mind my asking,” I said, “but why do you live here? You seem smart and you’re very articulate.”
“I’m dealing with some mental issues,” he offered.
He was a nice-looking kid, warm and polite. His presence there just seemed so incongruous. I realized he could have been any one of my own sons or grandsons. There but for the grace of God go I (or one of mine), I thought. His situation saddened me.
I drove home and immediately gathered up sweaters, wool socks, warm scarves, mittens and hats, plus a pair of hiking boots, all in excellent condition.
When I returned to the camp, I saw the young man standing around a fire with a motley crew of men all intent on staying warm on that particular 28-degree day.
I approached the young man and asked where I might leave the clothing. He pointed to a nearby tent.
“Are there women living here?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said and offered to introduce me to a woman I’ll call Tina (not her real name). He said that he had gone to Walmart earlier and bought her some long underwear.
Tina was not in the warming tent, but he soon spotted her and beckoned her our way.
Tina, a thin, fair-haired woman wearing a colorful array of clothing, was not wearing a mask, so the absence of her two front teeth was evident. I offered my bags of clothing, which she gratefully accepted.
We struck up a friendly conversation during which she shared the following: Tina, 50, said she had married “a very bad man” and that her children has disowned her. She began to cry when she said they would not accept her back into their lives unless or until she got out of the camp. At one time she had managed a women’s clothing department in a large retail chain. She said she felt so ashamed.
Tina said she takes a prescription drug for a mental-emotional condition, and I noticed her hands shook a little.
“Those drugs can be pretty powerful,” I said.
“Well,” she replied with a sweep of her arm, “if I didn’t take them I’d be like the rest of these people.”
By Tina’s estimate, 80 percent of the camp residents are either on drugs or suffering from PTSD or mental illnesses. She mentioned that she works hard at keeping her part of the camp clean, but it is very difficult under the circumstances.
“What do you need? How can the community help you?” I asked.
“I need a case manager,” she exclaimed. “I have short-term memory. I need someone to help me organize my life and to help get me to appointments.”
Tina described her frustration with the bureaucracy, which she described as ineffective and even unavailable.
Not knowing the other point of view, I decided I needed to research what programs are available in Bellingham to assist the homeless, which is my next step.
I gave Tina a hug—more important than my worry about COVID—bid her goodbye and left still feeling sad and helpless. But am I helpless?
I ask myself, “How are you your brother’s keeper? What do you owe your brother? And can I expect my so-called brother to help himself?
The answers to how to assist the homeless are not easy. When my friend commented that my letter would not be published because I had offered no solutions, my reaction was angry and defensive. I was frustrated.
“I am only one!” I declared. “Politicians and bureaucrats don’t seem to have the solutions either! What can I, one person, do?”
And the words of a poem learned in childhood spoke quietly to me:
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I can’t do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I