Blog Action Day 2011
Forty-six years ago this month, I made one of my “wrong” choices in life. I married a homeless and jobless man. I loved him. I was convinced we could change our lives if we stuck together. I was an optimistic teenager, even though I had already experienced some tough life-lessons.
In this marriage, one of the first lessons I was taught was about hunger. We started our marriage living a true Odyssey. We traveled across the entire United States. We went to California first (from Missouri) and ended up in New York (the November that the “Lights Went Out”). Nowhere we landed had jobs and/or places we could stay. My husband said he knew for sure we could get jobs with the Ringling Circus in Florida. He said he heard that when you worked for them, they gave you a trailer to live in. That would resolve our problem of not having a place to live if we got jobs. No job means no place to live; no place to live means no job. We sold everything we still had except the clothes on our backs, and we set out from New York to Florida. We took a bus as far as we could go with the money, which was to Dover, Maryland. After that we walked.
Our first crisis was when we reached the Norfolk tunnel. The toll was a per-person toll, and we had no money to pay our way even if we got a ride. A truck driver offered us a solution. My husband could crawl into the curtained sleeping quarters up behind the seat, and I could sit on the floor where I wouldn’t be seen, and he wouldn’t have to pay for us as passengers. The truck driver was an angel in disguise. He not only gave us a ride all of the way to Charleston, South Carolina, his destination, but he also bought us food all along the way.
I have left out a good portion of the Odyssey, but I’m giving some details now to illuminate the point I am making. We literally walked from Charleston SC to Jacksonville FL. Along the way, we sold our coats for fifty cents so we could buy small packages of chips to eat. We also cleaned the restrooms in a gas station in exchange for food.
In Jacksonville we desperately wanted a bed to sleep in, and after the Salvation Army turned us away (no room in the inn, so to speak), another angel appeared miraculously. This time the angel was a wino sitting on the sidewalk we were walking on. He asked for money. We snickered and explained our dire situation. By that time I had huge bleeding blisters on my heels and was in a lot of pain. The wino said we could stay in his place–one of those dingy, cheap hotel rooms. The wino-angel cleaned my feet and medicated my sores. He also cut the top part of my boots off, to below my blisters, so they would no longer rub my heels. He said I could sleep in the bed–a cot really–and he and my husband would sleep on the floor. Angel that the wino was, I was nevertheless afraid of him. I did not have a restful night. I slept with my eyes open. So did my husband. In the wee hours of the morning, we sneaked out of the hotel and left Jacksonville.
Crossing Florida to get to the Gulf side, to Vienna, FL, the home of the Ringling Circus, we slept one night in an abandoned motel and another night in the nursery of a church in Sarasota, courtesy of its pastor, whom we had asked for help. We walked many miles alongside orange groves, but we could only look at the oranges dangling from the trees. There were signs posted all along the way warning that if you were caught steeling even one orange, you would be shot. Of course, that’s not what the signs actually warned, but that was certainly the meaning.
When we finally reached our destination, full of hope, we found that not only was the circus away on tour but it wasn’t going to return for another six months. My optimism, my hope, shattered like glass around my feet. Walking across the empty arena, we could hear our footfalls echoing around us. I could swear I also heard the growling of my stomach echoing as well. This is the lesson I learned at that moment:
Hunger and thirst are synonymous with hopelessness. One has no hope when there is nothing to eat or drink. There is no future to think about. There is only the awful acceptance of the emptiness of the Now.