The following is a reflection on a series of articles recounting tales of homelessness in the state of Maine.
This is the sixth time I’ve started this reflection. I’m too angry to know exactly how to begin, but the due date is fast approaching, so I’d better get something on paper. The articles on Maine’s homeless children have induced a state of frustration in me so powerful as to dampen my regular flow of wit. The situation seems hopeless to me. One of the best and worst things about being human is that our ability to act deliberately in total disregard for natural instinct makes us think that we can “fix” laws of nature. Try as we might, we can not legislate away the fact that all systems have selection pressures and that not every member of that system is going to survive.
When I moved here to Maine, I had to get a new driver’s license. I also had to get a dog license, which I had never had before, despite have pets my whole life. In the same office, I saw applications for hunting licenses, fishing licenses, business licenses, and marriage licenses. You need a license to start a fire in city limits, to broadcast on a radio station, or to practice law. But anyone with a working set of genitalia can have children. We don’t get to license that. It’s a natural right endowed upon us by the universe. But it’s a right that carries with it a tremendous amount of responsibility and therein lays the problem.
The children are blameless in this struggle. As a social species, we feel compassion for them, knowing full well that they are the victims of their parents’ bad choices. We want to help, so we pass laws or enact assistance programs. But nothing works. The system is simply too big with too many cracks. The price of progress is that our family group is just too extended for us to help one another anymore. We are largely on our own and some of us are bound to fail.
It is a question of inheritance and education, really. For example, by monetary standards, I am neither rich nor poor. I live from paycheck to paycheck, and though I am comfortable now, I am one disaster away from having to renegotiate. But I have a huge safety net underneath, because no matter what happens, I always have my inheritance. Don’t misunderstand; there is no money to be had. I am not to be the beneficiary of some familial fortune. My inheritance is the power than comes from a superior education. It is my firm belief that if I were to be stripped naked, blindfolded, and dumped anywhere on the globe, that I would have the requisite skills to quickly rebuild a life. Nothing short of massive head trauma can steal that from me.
It occurs to me that my exception has proved the rule, that even an eternal “have” like me could be turned into a “have-not” with a quick crushing blow to the occipital lobe. So how do I respond to that realization? Can we chalk these scenarios up to bad luck and count our own blessings or are we obligated to help in any way we can? I suspect our humanity obligates us to the latter course. As admirable as that instinct may be, it dooms us to a certain amount of frustration and failure. I have chosen to combat this social ill, along with all other systemic malfunctions, in the only way I know how- as an educator. A good education can provide a measure of relief that no government assistance program can. It is the only solution I see as being effective, so that is how I choose to do my part.