This morning there were two big woolly mounds up against the fence of the town park and I saw them move. It was a strange sight. I had slowed down my car, approaching the Stop street, and that is when the sort of heaving movement caught my eye. I looked more carefully and saw what appeared to be a whole nest of mounds….and while I stared, two mounds opened up and hatched two humans.
This is when it dawned on me that it was a whole bunch of people who, as the first fingers of daylight pointed across the sky, were beginning to stir from their night’s sleep. It was early. No doubt when the working folk arrived and parked their cars, these pavement people would be gone. Maybe they too had jobs….They emerged fully clothed, and began tidying up their ‘lodgings’. I didn’t get a chance to count, but I guess there might have been at least eight people. Looking at the opened cocoons, I could see that they would have been sleeping close to each other for warmth. As I drove on, I saw one person walk to the rubbish bin and throw something in it. Why did I notice this, I wondered. I think it is because it registered with me that, although this person had not a room to call her own, she still ‘kept house’….
Briefly, as the traffic opened and I got my chance to drive on, the concept of owning nothing came into my mind. For half a minute I dwelled on the feeling of having nothing……and of course, with that came a huge sense of relief. I say ‘of course’ because the idea of having nothing to be responsible for and nothing demanding my attention, does immediately give the idea of relief.
It occurred to me then, that this must surely be the most direct way of becoming ‘present’, because there would be nothing to distract one – no imminent meetings, deadlines, cell phones, birthdays, budgets, sell-by dates, refrigerators to stock, dog food, cat de-worming, hair appointments, car licence renewals, insurance policy updates, annual leave planning, dry cleaning to collect, dinner parties to plan, the state of the economy……….nothing whatsoever. What a discipline it would be, to hanker after nothing and accept that what is around me, what is BUSY HAPPENING, is all I need to pay attention to. I have no moral high ground here, this is not why I am writing today. I couldn’t begin to understand homelessness. I simply saw those people sleeping on the pavement………
I couldn’t hold onto the idea of having nothing for even one minute before the thought of my piano popped into my head. It was the first thing I thought of. My 115 year old Blüthner grand piano with its warm, musical tone and magnificent, turned legs. I would not want to part from that. Oh no.
Then I thought of all my books. Wonderful volumes on dozens of shelves, books in every room in the house. No, I would not want to part with my books. And my bed…..my old iron bed with its cotton sheets and goose down duvet – not possible to give that up. I have slept in that bed for 30 years. Nor would I want to part with any of the other beds in the house, the often empty beds that are there for my children, for my friends or family who might come and visit me and who must be as comfortable in my home as they would be in theirs… my home, with its walls and windows and paintings and carpets and nick-knacks and electric lights and tables to sit at for eating meals. Which I cook myself. My house, with all its rooms, each one for a different purpose, with privacy and privilege.
I have mountains which I can gaze at every day, for as long as I like, all the while that I am here at home. They bring me into the present — when I look at those mountains, there is nothing to distract me, everything else falls away.
Outside my front door, I can see the whole world. Unlike those people on the pavement, I do believe the whole world cannot see me.