This is a note I wrote on 30 July 2014.
This morning I took a train into town to lodge my tax return. Being in semi-retirement with virtually no income for the past 18 months there was not a lot to report – just a few dollars interest and about $1,000 from some casual work. Not enough to last a winter.
The way to the Tax Office lead past an untidy long-haired bearded and shabbily dressed jobless vagrant on the sidewalk, appreciating his luck of a wrapped sandwich – gifted by a person a few steps ahead of me. A cup of coffee was still steaming next to him – another obvious gift. He did not look up, trying to avoid the stares of passersby – a thimble of pride left in him?
A twinge of empathy seeped itself into me. Winter. No fixed abode. A set of fraying and dirty clothes. Cement sidewalk for a chair – and bed.
As I sat waiting for the Tax Office to open, increasing larger pockets of people murmured by – well-heeled, chatting – some holding expensive brand name drinks and donuts. A thin layer of envy spread over me. Something was amiss.
I started to feel amputated.
The Tax Office doors opened and accorded an escape from myself. The soulless authoritarian Tax Officer and I disengaged as quickly as I could. And I then stepped into a food-court to sit down and gather my thoughts. Around me people sat at small round tables, doing what people do around small round tables.
Yes, I missed the dignity of work and what comes with it.
The way back to the train station became a lonely upstream weave against a flood of workers. The smell of freshly cooked chips wafted out of a shop.
I boarded an empty train home. Opened the plastic lunchbox with fried rice that my wife prepared for the journey. A few shelled peanuts rounded off my lunch – eating them one at a time. A minimalistic frame of mind was engaging me faster than I liked. Even the single paper serviette seemed to have more value than its one time use…
The only difference between me and the jobless “bum” seemed to be that I had a few more earthly things but in reality both of us were amputated.
There is no dignity in being poor, jobless, of pensionable age with nothing to do.
And then it struck me: Amputated as I might have felt, I was going back to a house I can call a home. With running water and a toilet. A warm bed and clean clothes tomorrow. And hot soup on the stove.
I know where I sleep at night.
And I know where the Ministers of Health and Employment and Social Services sleep at night.
But where do our homeless go at night?
Don’t underestimate the dignity and value of a job.
30 July 2014