On the train home I saw one of those homeless people standing on the platform at Central Station as the train slowed to a stop. I was in the front carriage whilst this unknown and nameless man was standing at the rear end of the platform. You know the type, dishevelled and dirty with long grey hair and beard. The sort of person we pass on the street, stirring a sense of disgust or maybe a touch of pity but generally making us feel uneasy and perhaps a little anxious and fearful. The ones we go out of our way to avoid and hope they don’t approach us. It’s definitely a sight we’d rather not see, maybe because we know that they are just a person, probably not too dissimilar to ourselves at one time, but somehow ended up standing on a train station platform looking the way they do – not fitting into what is socially acceptable and who are isolated from the rest of us or we may like to believe anyway. We can be pretty sure that they live rough and we can assume that they are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and alcohol or maybe both. We might think them insane even.

Anyway we do know that we don’t want anything to do with him and we probably wish we didn’t have to witness such an unsightly soul on our way home from work. However, it got me thinking while I sat in the train, wondering just how much different are we, really, as we sit staring into space or out the window on our way home? I don’t know how many people sit in a carriage of a train, 50 or 100 maybe? We may be dressed appropriately, clean and probably not smelling offensive but we sit there avoiding one another if we can. We don’t want to have to interact with the person next to us and at least on the train we are pretty isolated from one another. We may have lovers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters or friends when we get home but on the train we are separated and isolated. I know the kind of isolation we may or may not feel on a train is far from the social isolation a homeless person of the kind standing on aforementioned platform, it does make an interesting comparison nevertheless.

The kind of isolation this homeless man must experience is what we fear the most and is probably why we feel so uneasy when confronted by it on the street. We could easily end up in a similar situation. If things turned sour and  in a serious of events we found ourselves with no money. If we somehow lost our social standing and thus our friends, we could be standing in a big city with no where to go, sleeping rough. What if the event somehow made us acutely aware of the superficiality and fragility that social norms are? What if  we turned to alcohol for comfort, to warm our souls in such a cold heartless place? A city filled with millions of people but no one willing to lend an ear? What if in such unaccommodating circumstances our perception changed and our mind snapped or broke and we lost the ability to adjust back to the norm. Would we then be standing on the platform, dirty and wretched?

Would you then be insane? Mentally ill and forgotten? Lost? Would then someone like me, sitting on the train look out the window and see you standing there, wondering who really is insane? Is it you standing there or is it me sitting on a crowded train, who will be there again the next day and the next wondering why exactly I am there? Doing the same thing day in and day out so that I may be seen to be a part of norm and not really knowing for what purpose? Is it really so important to be a part of machine that cares so little apart from the economic wheels I can turn? Who is alone peering out at my fellow human beings wondering if we aren’t all just as insane?

Did that homeless man see something we couldn’t that made him just a nameless agent standing at odds against a society that herds together for no apparent reason, other than appearing to be just another part of a norm. A norm that shuns and forgets and is threatened by something outside that norm? I wonder if anyone today will ask that homeless man if he’s okay or wants something to eat or maybe just be willing to hear and lend a sympathetic ear? After all that’s what we all want, someone who’ll take a minute to ask how we’re going and to care.

Category : Journal

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