The Woman at the Stoplight

I did something a few weeks ago that I have never done before.

We have a phenomenon in Madison that the city officials are trying to disallow.  There are certain intersections in the city that are often frequented by people who are asking for money.  The panhandling occurs as cars are stopped for a red light.

The person who is doing the panhandling — man or woman — usually looks rather “rough.”  A few belongings are seen nearby.  He or she is holding up a hand printed cardboard sign asking for money and perhaps indicating something about their difficult circumstances (e.g., lost a job, can’t find work, homeless).

panhandler sign.jpg

I have never seen a panhandler being aggressive toward a driver.  They seem to stand silently in place in the median, letting their personal appearance and handmade sign speak for them.

One time, at one such intersection, I saw the driver in the car ahead of me roll down his window, stick his arm out, and hand the man a bill.  That was the first time I had actually seen a driver do that — hand money over to the person in the median.

So what I did a few weeks ago was exactly that.  I was stopped at a red light, and a woman was standing in the median right next to my car — belongings located at her feet, looking rough, holding her sign.  I scrambled to get a $5 bill out of my wallet, rolled down the window, and called out to her.  She took the money, looked me in the eye and said “God bless you, God bless you.”

Now, I don’t know what she’ll use the money for, I don’t know what her circumstances are, I don’t know if she ekes out a few dollars a day from her panhandling or (as some claim) hundreds of dollars a day.  But it’s hard for me to imagine anyone standing out there, with their downtrodden and impoverished circumstances for everyone to see, unless they are genuinely desperate.  In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. Other thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

Dis-confirming Data — on Sunday??

There it is again.

When I pull up the statistics for this blog, I find a curious and persistent phenomenon:  The number of views per day is consistently higher on Sundays.  What is that all about?  And not only that, but the majority of the week’s views, over and over again, have been of a posting I did over a year and a half ago (January 2015), “Dis-confirming Data in Real Life”.

Dis-confirming data are present in life when our  experiences do not appear to support current theory or our a priori assumptions.  One example I gave in the 2015 posting was about my mother, who, in 1991, moved out of her long-time home into a nursing home here in Madison; when I offered to bring in some of her pieces of furniture to put in her room she had absolutely no wish to do that.  Her response flew in the face of all the environmental and relocation literature that champions having familiar objects in one’s new space to make it seem more like home.

At the time of the January 2015 posting, I argued that dis-confirming data are not to be feared or avoided but rather they are to be “celebrated.”  Instead of merely casting doubt on the original themes or theories, the evidence-to-the-contrary offers us deeper and richer understandings than would otherwise be possible.  We need these dis-confirming data.  For me, my mother’s response led to expanded ways of thinking about relocation, that bringing pieces of one’s prior home to a new location might  feel like a violation of that previous home, that to bring familiar items into the new home could feel un-comforting rather than comforting.

So my questions are:  Why does this bump in the statistics for blog views persistently occur on Sundays?  And, what is the meaning of the recurring preponderance of views of the posting on dis-confirming data?  Anyone?

And now I can’t resist sharing one more example of dis-confirming data.  This one comes from my three-year experience in a program of restorative justice at a maximum security prison in Wisconsin.

I was leading a discussion with about 24 men, inmates in the prison, sitting in a circle, focusing on their everyday routines “inside the walls.”  The discussion included asking the men to share ways that they had been able to make their days inside the prison more their own, more meaningful to them as individuals.  For part of the discussion, I asked them to describe for me what their cells were like.  What would I see if I visited them in their cells?

Theoretically, I was looking for them to describe ways that they had been able to incorporate  personal elements in their cells — to make their cells feel more home-like and more “theirs.”   And, in fact, that is primarily what they did describe:  a box that was used as a small table, a rug on the floor, a dustpan made out of cardboard, sage and other Native American symbols on the wall.  But then . . . at one point, one of the men described a very different way of making the cell “his own.”

This man told the group that he deliberately had never unpacked the boxes that he brought his things in when first coming to the prison.  He said that he wanted to be ready to leave prison on a minute’s notice, if ever he should get the call. I came to understand this reluctance to unpack or to express himself in some personal way in the cell’s decor as his way of “owning” that cell. The cell was his holding spot. The cell was not a space that he wanted to make personal or homey. Perhaps his “readiness to leave on a moment’s notice” helped make his stay in the maximum security prison bearable. Perhaps that “readiness” gave him a modicum of hope for a future.

So, back to the two questions above:  What is it about Sunday that leads to this consistently high number of views on the blog?  And what is it about the dis-confirming data posting — from well over a year ago — that leads to it consistently being the most widely viewed?  Anyone?

 

 

“Are You Still in Your Own Home?”

In April, 2013, I wrote a blog about the experience of being 74 years old.  I made the statement that, “Daily life is not without its aging reminders.”  I gave some examples such as being offered a seat on a crowded bus, attending matinees rather than evening performances, being referred to in a waiting room as “that lady with white hair.” These are all the beginnings of feeling somewhat at variance with the world around me.

Now, three years later, a new phenomenon has shown itself.

In the past two months, at least four different people have asked me if we are still in our “own home.”  The question makes sense, these are people I haven’t seen for a while.  It’s a perfectly reasonable and interesting thing to bring up.  And yet–the question is also a very heavy “aging reminder.”

Being in one’s “own home” in older age serves as a powerful symbol of well-being and independence in much of western culture.  I remember my mother, then past age 90, responding to people’s concerns by saying, “I’m doing all right.  I’m still in my own home.” Have Ed and I reached that point of vulnerability now?

Living into these later years definitely takes courage and fortitude, folks — definitely.