Attachment (from The Crumbling Mansions)

A new entry from my in-progress book on homelessness …


This is Phoenix again. I guess you could call this an update on where I’m at with helping a population I value greatly, and that is, the homeless population.

Today I did outreach work, passing out burritos and hygiene kits, and helping those in need.

I don’t know quite where to begin, and so it makes the most sense to just … process. Process my thoughts, my feelings. Process my fears, my experiences. Process my expectations, my failures.

Today’s outreach went really well. And yet, I feel like something is missing. I don’t know what that is yet. I should feel a strong feeling of accomplishment. I should feel a strong feeling of satisfaction.

And yet, I don’t. There’s something missing. Something crucial, is missing.

It’s because, I’m attached, and the emptiness and loneliness that comes from attachment has made itself existent in my life.

I feel what I need to feel to get by. I am proud that I was able to make a difference, and that I work with the organization that I work with. But I hear things, and I see things. Today, I heard and saw things.

I see a gap between me and the homeless population. I talked to some people, to try and get their stories, but I wasn’t able to open up the dialogue. The walls are built up strong, solid. I don’t blame them, of course. If I was homeless, I wouldn’t feel comfortable opening up about myself. Especially considering all of the mistrust that further compounds the plight of these people. I can sense in this population, the distrust is so incredibly high, because this is a population that literally is always open to exploitation of some type.

Maybe that’s what I feel is missing: The attachment. Is it wrong to say that I want to feel a bond with my fellow human beings, but how I can’t because the gap is too wide, the fissure is too powerful? Because we come from two completely different worlds, mine impacted by good fortune and even luxury, which is impacted how I live my life, the other afflicted by the side effects of living amidst crime, oppression from authorities, and the loneliness and alienation of being homeless?

I still don’t feel comfortable openly getting the stories of others, and telling the stories (though I will say that is still a goal of mine, because I want the homeless to tell their stories and I want to document them: I want to limit my role in the stories as much as possible). Which is crazy, because I’ve been working on my book for a while now, and I still don’t feel comfortable sharing stories yet. Part of that is because, many do not feel comfortable sharing their stories with me, and it makes me feel as though sharing them, as important as it might be, is not quite the best thing for right now.

But that doesn’t make me any less attached.

I’ve learned that attachment causes suffering. It’s easier to be apathetic. It’s easier not to care. It’s easier to just … let go of that which is out of your control. But, I’m already attached. Not just because I care, but because I need to feel what another person feels: that is a duty I impose on myself, however imprudent it may be. The fact that I cannot, except at a very great distance, shows me how far we have fallen as a community. I don’t know what builds these barriers, but they exist … and consequently, little holds us together.

So imagine, for a moment, what that must feel like for me: Trying to attach to what I otherwise cannot attach to. A magnet trying to attach to plastic. Hearing about children hungrily crying out for food, reaching through a heavily gated area that is their playground to get the food, but with their childlike happiness, their childlike zeal. How can you not be attached to that? I wasn’t even there to experience that, and yet I am attached, painfully. I am attached to the notion, the idea, to the concept, to the scene, of what has happened in this world, of what other people have experienced, and what is broadly construed as the human condition.

I still don’t know where I’m headed on this journey of mine. Of helping those affected by homelessness (I don’t like referring to the population as homeless, because I feel it is a limiting term), of writing a book on homelessness, of having a solid foundation to build upon, whether ethical, practical, ideological, etc. A lot of it has been built, the foundation, but the more that I explore, the more unrest that I consequently feel, the more I can see the instability, within myself, reflected in the world, and vice versa.

And how can I not? What I saw today was too much for me to process. A woman came to me and told me some of the things that she has experienced at the shelter she goes to. The shelter only allows those who speak highly of the organization to speak to the media. The woman was kicked out of the shelter, even though she has a child, and even though it was raining. She told me how the shelter gets donations, many donations, but the homeless themselves don’t actually see the donations, or at least as many of the donations that are actually there.

Or when I saw major drug deals going down and the police were arresting people for minor offenses such as jaywalking.

I am attached, consequently. I am attached precisely because I realize there is nothing I can do.

It’d be nice if I had a neat answer to wrap up this experience of mine, and wrap up what I’m feeling, conclusively wrap up this specific chapter in my life. On the one hand, I can do that: I can say without a doubt that I am where I need to be: Exactly where I need to be.

The problem is, there’s this whole other side to the story. There is the strain, the pain, of my attachments. I am attached to the people that I serve (and cannot serve). I am attached to the people I serve, with the realization that I have done the right thing, the best thing, for them, for me, but under the implicit understanding that I am not a part of this population, and that I may still be wrong in my assessments of what they need and what is appropriate for them. This doesn’t mean I need to be homeless to immerse myself within this population: But it means that this population has been driven under so deep by an oppressive culture, that essentially, I cannot lay claim to being a part of the community that comprises the homeless downtown. Meanwhile, the police presence continues to push the homeless population further and further away, not just out of the city but away from the resources that do exist to help them, scaring them, instilling fear.

The problem, as I said, is attachment. I cannot unattach. I cannot detach. I will not, in fact, detach, even with the understanding that such a thing might make me happier.

I feel unrest, and I am going to continue to chase down that feeling of unrest until I can get to the root of what is causing it (I think once I figure out what is causing the unrest, I will be able to change something, and for the better).

For now, I can only speculate on what is causing the feeling of unrest.

I’ve already complained about certain issues: Such as, for instance, the homeless being seen as numbers, statistics, rather than people.

I’ve already commented that this population is dehumanized by society at large, and oppressed by that society.

I’ve already complained about how authority figures, and the institutions that are supposed to help them, seem to oppress them.

But the deep feeling of unrest, it comes from a deeper observation that I am just barely now slowly able to articulate. It is this idea that I cannot live with the homeless. It is the idea that I am somehow separate from them. Their realities are completely different from my own privileged one. I can’t be with them. I can’t feel with them. I can’t live their reality.

I cannot, consequently, attach.

I want to change this.

I don’t know how to change it, however. I am a biased individual, for instance, which causes problems. I am ridiculously privileged. I am not as rational as I would like to be. I have flaws and faults that must be reconciled. But it is my goal to attach to this population, even if I don’t know what that means, even if it forever confuses me, and even if I learn things I am not ready for, experiencing things that I would never be able to handle.

This, to me, is the human experience, and what makes the human experience worth living: This, to me, this drive to settle the feeling of unrest and settle deep within what we fear: That, is living in the human condition. Call me crazy, if you want (indeed, it is insane), but I am going to find a way to attach, for real. To attach deeply.

Even if that means that as I try harder and harder to attach, I only drift further and further away from the people I care for.

Even if it means I don’t ultimately help them, or even help myself.

Even if I never achieve my goals, and attach.

Such a realization is an important one: That is the pain of attachment.

I live and breathe for that.


4 thoughts on “Attachment (from The Crumbling Mansions)

  1. Pingback: Attachment (from The Crumbling Mansions) | A Dickey Wonderland

  2. Great post, Stephan. One thought occurred to me as I read and reread this piece and that’s that, as I understand it, detachment is not denial. It is not insensitivity or an unwillingness to take action. I think the trick to all this attachment/detachment business is to learn how to care about, take action and give a voice to those living without a home. Homelessness, for lack of a better word, is real, and as a reality it cannot be ignored. Still, the one who reports it and gives voice to those living this life, I think, needs to maintain objectivity. If the chronicler becomes to immersed in the situation they are trying to expose and help heal, he/she may well lose their ability to effectively engage in illuminating and, to whatever degree, healing this malaise which befalls our society. For it is a malaise. Our society is ill. A doctor, to be able to best aid his patients in their healing process, must be able to stand back and view the symptoms from all possible angles. Only then will he be able to use the perspective he has gained to begin the process. You mention the process–detachment is a process, understanding is a process, self-love is a process, as is wholeness. You are doing important work–shining a light on a corner much of society would rather not see–just do the work and let go of the results. I know: easier said than done. But just recognizing your own dilemma and giving it voice AND recognizing the apathy, denial, etc etera, that surrounds us is you doing the work. Processing. To become detached one must first be attached. Have faith in yourself and the path you have chosen (or that has chosen you) and pay attention to every step–this is the process. And remember to love yourself and your fallibility; it’s the only way you will be able to love the ones you are trying to aid. Just a few thoughts from a person who struggles to climb from the mire of this own lack of objectivity every day–disregard if not helpful. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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