Monday, February 16, 2015
Today I am grateful for my warm house. With temperatures plunging to almost nothing, I can’t help but think about the people who live with less than adequate heat or worse than that, on the streets.
I mentioned this to my mom the other day and she asked, “Why are there so many people on the streets? You never heard about that years ago.” That’s an interesting question and my response was, “Probably the economy, lack of care for mentally ill and an increase in substance abuse. I think there are way more people who are closer to losing it all than ever before.” That’s scary. We never know when we might be challenged to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
A long time ago I was asked to be in a senior film directed by a Drexel University student. I played a homeless bag lady. The director would provide the shopping cart and cacophony of items for inside, but I was asked to find my own costume. “Be sure you will be warm enough because we will be outside, under a bridge, all day long.” Wow. Talk about an eye-opener. It was cold. . .not single digits like we’re having now, but 30’s and low 40’s, see-your-breath-cold just the same. And it was colder under the bridge. Even with the cardboard bed and newspaper blankets.
There were long stretches while lights were set and angles were figured out and there was no place to warm up, except the 7-11 two blocks away, where they allowed us to use the bathroom. I looked so wretched they were not going to let me in until the director explained I was an actor in costume.
Mostly I had to remain ready, which is what film acting is all about. . .waiting. . .waiting. . .waiting. So I just sat on my cardboard and waited. And smelled the rank air. And looked around. Really looked around. And wondered what it would be like to have THIS be home. I fixated on the dirt smeared on my freezing knuckles, poking through fingerless gloves and the filth and rips in my clothes. Then I cried. Tucked in the filthy cardboard, with dog feces and empty booze bottles that were already there and newspapers and trash and dirt whipping past my face in the raw wind, I cried. It felt so real. I felt so alone.
When the director called “action” I was so deep in my environment I needed a minute to remember why I was there. This wasn’t my home. I was in a film. Even though I was cold and uncomfortable and exhausted, when shooting was over I could go home. There would be a steamy shower. I could get as many hot drinks as I wanted. A warm meal would be waiting. I would be fine. I had choices.
So today I am very grateful for my warm house. Yet whenever the temperature plunges, I remember my experience under the bridge. . .wearing raggity-clothes. . .sitting on dirty cardboard. . .trying to stay warm. . .feeling desolate, alone and without choices. And I pray for the people who live that way every day.