Recently, a homeless man came into our rehearsal room through the north door, near where I usually stand. He was tall, unshaven, smelly, mumbling. He put down his things and took off his shirt. His body was slender, but out of shape, his chest hairy. When he began to unbuckle his belt, my fleeting thought was: I’ve had children, I don’t need an anatomy lesson. I also felt a familiar frisson of fear that I always get when the homeless approach. Jared, Bill, other men left their rehearsal spots and came over. The man shouted some invectives, but eventually left. Then, I was awash with the other familiar feeling I get around the homeless–guilt.
This is not the first homeless person to show up at our rehearsal doors. They come occasionally, often when it’s First Congregational’s turn to provide shelter and the homeless have to wait outside until we leave at 10 p.m. No matter when they appear, I always experience the same reactions of fear and guilt. Fear because the line between where I am and where they are is so thin that I know I could be among them any day. In truth, I haven’t eaten every day of my life, nor have I always had a roof over my head, but I do now. Guilt because I have so much by comparison, the gap between rich and poor is growing, more and more people are drifting into troubled mental waters, and all I feel is fear and the desire for them not to be around me.
Every time I experience one of these encounters, I promise myself that I’ll be better next time, but the next time comes and my gut does the same instinctive thing–react in fear. Our choir goes out into the community–sings all the time. If we tried to target the homeless as our audience, would they care? I expect not, unless there was a meal or shelter promised at the end of it, in which case, they’d tolerate us. Would we simply be making ourselves feel better? Probably.
I have no answer to any of this, but I know that these experiences are a periodic part of our rehearsals and I think it’s important for each of us to acknowledge the presence of the homeless among us and how each of us reacts and tries to cope with what has become a seemingly insoluble problem.