Lost and Found – The Stories of our Lives
A couple of times a week, there is a homeless woman who comes into work. She is always dressed in a winter coat – even in August. She carries a few reusable bags that appear to be filled with nothing but plastic grocery bags. I assume that whatever is in those bags is everything that she owns.
She never speaks. She takes the key to the women’s room and usually spends about 15 minutes in there. While I don’t know for sure, I have to think she is using the sink in the bathroom to give herself a bath.
I live in the neighborhood and see her walking around regularly. In the heat of summer and in the cold of winter. She looks to be in her 70’s and I’m always a little amazed when I see her as I keep thinking the harshness of her life would have resulted in her death long ago.
I have no idea where she spends her nights. I hope she finds a bed in shelter but I have no idea if she does so or not. I don’t expect anyone who sees her walking down the street knows any more about her than I do.
Because she doesn’t talk to anyone (as far as I can tell), what anyone can know about her is limited. Does she have family? Is she suffering from a mental illness (probably)? Who was she and what did she do before her life landed her on the street carrying a couple of bags ? Does anyone know the story of her life?
I’m right and she never speaks, the story of her life is lost in her head. It could be a story that is mostly tragic. Or mostly beautiful. Or even boring.
But it lives on only with her.
History is filled with lives about which we know nothing. Beyond the kings and politicians and scientists and artists, there are hosts of people who lived, worked, loved and died without a single word written to commemorate or even acknowledge their existence.
I look at the world of social media and sometimes I see a lost opportunity. There, amidst the memes and political propaganda and Buzzfeed links are the stories of people’s lives. Incomplete and filled with personal bias though they may be, they give a picture of the journey we are all taking through life.
It is, to me, a beautiful thing that I can know what is going on with my brother in San Francisco and my best college friends from Iowa and my Butt-Numb-a-Thon buddies in Austin by looking them up online. The events of their lives – big and small – are laid out for anyone who is interested.
I follow the lives of people with whom I strongly disagree and people with whom I share a similar perspective. I follow people much older than me and people much younger than me.
And I learn their stories. They are interesting stories. They are stories filled with unreliable narrators, unexpected tragedy and amazing triumphs. They are the stories of artists, actors, movie fans, customer service workers, computer technicians, and more.
There are many ways to define what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom. What makes our species so interesting to me is the way we want to understand how other members of the same species experience our short time on this planet.
We go so far as to make up stories about people who don’t exist. We watch those stories in the movie theater and we read them in our living rooms and we complain about how well the story about these non-existent people was told.
And an old lady walks down the street carrying her life in two bags and most of us don’t think about her twice. I know more about Hermoione Granger than I will every know about that one homeless woman.
Is that tragic? I don’t know. Maybe she has had a hard life that she feels is best forgotten. Maybe she is already in the early (or late) stages of dementia and her story changes minute by minute. Maybe there is a volunteer at a homeless shelter who is trusted enough to know parts of her story.
I just know that watching her walk down the street makes me curious about what her life has been outside of my brief glimpses of what it has become. And it makes me grateful that I know so much more about so many others.
Tags: Homlessness, Social Media