Homelessness

My annoying hypersensitivity to noise notwithstanding, I’m not a complete bitch and not completely out of touch with what, say, my religion would have me do in regards to my fellow people.

Every morning I walk down a street to work that has, on average, five or six homeless folks on the four blocks I walk. I have never given them any money, and I wonder what the right thing to do is. My ex-husband once saw a guy outside Woolworth’s (back when there was a Woolworth’s!) with a sign that said, “I would love a cold Coke” or something like that, so he went in and bought him one. On the other hand, I once offered a persistent street lady my after-Mass scone and she said she couldn’t eat it because she can’t eat gluten.  While I can certainly understand not wanting to have to run for the bathroom when you don’t have one, that put the brakes on my helping her. On some mutant third hand, we have Dorothy Day, who once gave a diamond ring to a poor woman instead of selling it and using the money, saying that even the poor deserve beauty and the woman could sell it if she wanted to.

I have a friend who never gives anything, but always says, “Sorry sir” or “Sorry ma’am,” in order to treat the homeless person with manners and dignity.

Of course, I don’t feel nearly as bad for the cute girl in her 20s who sits on the corner my building is on. She is certainly with the program enough to avail herself of whatever help is out there. Some people… not really.

So Wednesday, when the emaciated lady outside Starbucks asked for help to get a coffee, should I have gone in and bought her one? Sure, if I lose my job — a definite possibility — I will be in horrible straits, but today I can  buy her a coffee. Ought I? I didn’t.

Part of the reason is that I’m very shy around strangers. Even the most professional, formal of strangers makes me nervous, never mind a homeless person who may be a bit “off” (as if I’m  not!) and will likely keep talking to me. It’s nothing personal or anti-homeless or anti-poor.  Just… shyness!

Once I know if I’m keeping my job, I should set up a monthly donation to a local charity for the poor or homeless. But do the really confused, wandering folks — who, in my opinion, should be taken care of — know where to go? I wish I could be as brave as the sorts of people who work directly with the homeless.

Earplugs

I have decided I need to invest in a crate of earplugs. Unfortunately, I have weird ears — earbuds fall right out of them and earplugs need to be placed very carefully in order to stay in and actually block any sound. It can be done, though.

I need to do this because while I know I’m hypersensitive to a lot of things, including noise (especially rhythmic or repetitive noise), the world is, I think, really too noisy. And in places where you don’t expect it to be. I stopped by our (dreadfully ugly, but open all day) cathedral today and as usual there were people — employees of the Cathedral or diocese — walking around with hard-soled shoes, talking and laughing, and walking through the Adoration Chapel at the back of the building. Granted, the (dreadfully ugly) building is all concrete and glass with an overlay of wood, so the acoustics are perfect for hearing every whisper, murmur, heel click, key jangle, etc. But seriously! Can people not dispense with talking and laughing while walking through what should be a silent church?

Similarly, I go to a quite traditional parish where there isn’t hand-clapping kind of stuff going on. But no matter where I sit during Mass, I always end up sitting next to the person with the kids who not only can’t sit still for an hour, they cannot sit still nor stop talking at all for the hour. I know I was a weird kid — I loved to read, so I had no problem sitting still for hours, at home, school, church, anywhere. But it amazes me how some small people must flip (loudly) the pages of the hymnal or missal, kick their feet against something, and whisper constantly to their mom. I didn’t even have interesting church services — no vestments, bells, incense, or good architecture (we were Baptist) and I managed to get through an hour’s service relatively well. Generally speaking these aren’t toddlers at Mass doing this — they’re between 5 and 10.

I often go up to the cemetery nearby, where my parents are buried, just to read or knit. It’s huge and parklike, and the older sections have graves from the late 19th century. Very interesting and beautiful. People go up there to jog, bike, walk their dogs… and sometimes play really loud music in their cars. What?!

Or the apartment manager who stands outside the paper-thin walls in the hallway and talks at the top of his lungs to tenants. Or the lady across the street who plays her piano for hours, often selectingly jarring atonal compositions, with her windows open.

Or on the subway. I know that when we’re in tunnels you do need to talk a little louder, but on Friday I sat by two guys who were literally shouting about an upcoming business trip, and an older woman was shouting equally loudly about how they put silica in hamburgers to keep them from clumping. I finally put my headphones on even though I really didn’t feel like music.

I do know I have a hypersensitivity to noise and I know I’m a curmudgeon who wishes other people had bigger boundaries. But I think if people were quiet in places where you would expect it (church, for instance!) I would be able to handle people bellowing to each other on the subway better. It just seems there is nowhere to go for peace and quiet.

So, I am investing in earplugs. It won’t drown out everything, of course, but muffling will work!