No loose change, only loose heartstrings
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
– Mahatma Ghandi
By Liana Hall
Having been provided a platform from which to share my musings, I have pondered long and hard as to what form this column might take. The generous editor has allowed me such a wide remit that he hasn’t even given me one. Full creative control is any writer’s dream. However, as any wish fulfillment dictates: be careful what you hope for. Because now the question becomes: “Holy God, what will I write about?!”
Firstly, what’s in a name? I have been called a nomad, a dreamer and a wild card. I admit to being nothing more than all of these things. However, first and foremost, I am a Bermudian. As a tourist would ask, “Are you native?” Why, yes. Yes, I am (or as much as one could be considered so in this young British colony).
My gypsy wanderlust has existed for as long as I have and my aimless ambling around this fair island could never satisfy that. So I leave, but soon realise I can never abandon my love for Bermuda and the winds that blow across the Sargasso Sea always bring me home. They always will. But for now I am restless. Restless in spirit. Restless in step.
Now to my first subject.
At 11pm a few Sundays past I was slowly shuffling (in contrast to my usually frenetic pace) through Hamilton attempting to find somewhere to feed myself.
Fear not; this is not an article about the difficulties of finding late-night nourishment in our capital city. We all know that story too well.
Starting backatown, I walked with my visiting friend through Court Street past the shut doors of Jamaican Grill (sad times for my stomach) down to Front Street and along to The Beach. There was some commotion outside (there usually is), but the laughter of the crowd indicated that all was well in the state of Hamilton.
However, what I saw next indicated otherwise.
The laughter was coming from a group filming the sometime street fellow commonly referred to as “Scientist” as he danced on the sidewalk. The men were goading him to continue for their entertainment. Whilst overseas, I’ve seen videos crop up of people doing this same thing to this man and I’ve considered commenting to express my disdain. Something always holds me back. Don’t get involved. Don’t solicit a reaction. Keep your head down. Keep your mouth closed. The truth is I experience fear of speaking out, because I’ve witnessed the wrath on this island wrought down upon any who dare. “Lighten up!” I hear them say in my mind. “Don’t be a killjoy.” “You’re overreacting.”
As I witnessed this behaviour live in living colour, the truth struck as to why this hurts me.
I am someone who suffers from mental illness (Bipolar disorder) and although I am no physician it is clear enough to me that “Scientist” displays the signs of one whose experiences are shaped by mental troubles. He is one of me. But more importantly he is one of us.
However, the attitudes towards mental health in this country (and, to be fair, also abroad), the stigma, the resistance to acceptance, the fear of someone different and the lack of real assistance for those on the street materialises thus: dance, monkey, dance.
As I was expressing my disdain to my New Yorker friend for my fellow Bermudians’ treatment of a clearly mentally ill man, who I’ve witnessed eating out of a garbage can, we passed by a Front street store, whose slogan read “Redefining Luxury.” Sprawled beneath the banner was a sleeping man: torn clothes, an aroma of human waste, head covered with his hand, lying upon a dirty sleeping bag. The impact of the juxtaposition on me was profound.
I wanted to take a picture, but I wrestled morally with the idea. On the one hand it would be stirring photojournalism.
On the other hand, would I be exploiting someone’s vulnerability to make my own point? Perhaps it would be just the same as those who were filming “Scientist”; using an unprotected stranger to my own ends. I chose to leave the man in what little peace he could find in his dreams and instead paint the picture for you with my words.
It has been two years since I moved away from Bermuda.
I returned briefly last Christmas, but this trip I have stayed for over a month. That is seven weeks to wander the streets and record my observations. Upon reflection, these are my findings:
There is a distinct increase in the number of people sleeping rough. On the street more people ask me for money more often. Some ask for dollars, some ask for food, some ask for change, any change, loose change. The thing is there is none. We are now a country with no loose change. Too many people are struggling. Too many people are suffering; mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. There is poverty in paradise and it’s becoming so much more apparent. It has migrated from outside town to backatown to Front Street, once the preserve of the mighty Forty Thieves.
Hamilton is now the place for the vulnerable, the forgotten, the ignored and the unseen.
We walk past because we can’t help because there is no loose change. Only loose heartstrings.
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