To the man on the street today who told me to “get a job,”
I wasn’t sure how to respond when you walked by me and made a quick assumption about my lifestyle. Maybe it was the campaign pins on my backpack, the fact that my shoes had holes in them, or the septum ring in my nose, but something about me made you angry. I couldn’t understand everything you said, because you said it in a haste, passing me, not even looking me in the eye. So I said the only thing that made logical sense, “Would you like to stop and actually talk with me?” “Oh, sure,” you replied, turning around and really looking at me for the first time, annoyance apparent in every fiber of your body. I was not alone. I was surrounded by friends. Friends who organize national and regional environmental campaigns, friends who write papers on elaborate math equations, and friends who juggle children, their own small business, and additional work besides. Honest, hard working people. You sir, could hardly stand to look at us.
I was filled with so many emotions I could hardly speak. But I kept calm and let my friends tell you about their jobs, and managed to stay that way when you started to walk away again, saying quite loudly that all we do with our days is sit around and “irritate people.” I’m sorry that you find my existence irritating. You were correct when you assumed that I personally do not have a job; what you didn’t care to hear about is all the work that I do. I live in community, spend time with those in my house, cook several large meals a week, and clean up after all of it. I study and help organize a Sunday gathering that meets in my living room. I volunteer my time at a food rescue, sorting food that would otherwise be wasted so that it can be distributed to those who really need it. I’m honing my craft as a baker, on my own time because none of the four local bakeries want to hire me. I’m learning how to start my own business, doing internet research, filling out paper work, and managing what minimal finances my husband and I have. I’m an actress who’s rediscovering her craft, and preparing exercises for the theatre group I’m helping to start. I’m a member of several local Occupy work groups, figuring out how to distribute resources, and planning educational teach-ins, to educate myself and others in the community. I’m also planning a 130-mile bike trip, working on fixing up my own bike for the road and helping others to do the same. And in my spare time for the last two weeks, I’ve been helping with a campaign for the fair farm bill, to make sure small farmers are taken care of, and Americans can get decent, healthy food.
I think it’s a shame that none of these things earn me any money. In fact, I might even say it’s criminal. But maybe you’re right; maybe I should try to get a job at the local burrito take-out. If I worked there 40 hours a week, would I annoy you less? Sometimes, after interactions with people such as yourself, I worry that I am a waste of space. But then I look at the friends who are next to me, or the awesome sock I’ve just knit, or the 45-foot wall of petitions I helped put together, and I feel a small bit of validation. Maybe even hope; hope that I am accomplishing something, even though it’s literally “worth” nothing.
I am not sorry because I feel the need to apologize for the way I live, but because I feel sorry for you. To me, you were just another person, passing me on the sidewalk. To you, I was a problem. A lazy bum. An “irritation.” I’m sorry for whatever you’ve gone though that causes you to feel so angry. I’m sorry that you seem to want to cut yourself off from others based on their physical appearance and your personal judgement about it.
I am not sorry that you don’t understand me, but I am terribly sorry that you’ll never take the time to try. If you’re ever feeling up to it, you could come have dinner at my house and meet my whole community. If I’m not there, you can find me in Riverfront Park, dreaming and working towards a better world, with all the other bums.
PS. I’m sorry if this letter seems uncalled for or self-righteous. I’m not sure how Jesus would have handled this situation, but I know he wants me to forgive. I don’t want to be angry, or start hating you, and this is the best way I could think of.