In Which I Can’t Forget the Woman Wearing a Trash Bag

The end of this past week was the end of two weeks of scrambling to make deadlines and survive life. The show, as those of us who have worked in the theatre know, must go on, and that’s regardless of complications. You adapt and overcome…it’s just that some things are more difficult to overcome than others.

The thing that’s been most difficult about the transition to making my living in the code of the web is that, with all of the creativity and flexibility that it allows, it is also is a very different frame of mind in many ways. That is to say, I’m an abstract thinker by nature, which is why I’ve always loved academics. The craft of implementing the web…of writing the code…is very concrete. At the end of the day, I just struggle with concrete things. I excel at theories, but don’t always do so great at implementation. All of the tiny details of which I have to keep track during an average day causes a sort of short circuit to occur. I’ve always been able to stay on top of nearly everything in life, to handle the onslaught of tasks and chores that come with being an adult, generally without letting things become overwhelming. I’m the guy who does the dishes every night. For the past six months, I can’t get myself together. There are so many details that require tracking during the day, I can’t handle any more at night. I forget things, important things…like laundry, for example…that I never tripped on before. Organization, I firmly believe, is the key to a calm life, and the combination of the career change, the nature of the career, and having a two-year-old, has resulted in my being just about as disorganized as they come.

All of those things together has left precious little room in my head for the things that I love. I’m rushed, so I don’t always appreciate beautiful things when I see them. I’m forcing myself to think pragmatically, so I miss the “vibe” that I always saw in things before. In my new found vernacular for the technical, I’ve mis-placed a tendency to see the human side of things.

In short, I’m failing to see the miraculous in the mundane.

When I was in college, I read some poems at a public reading that the campus literary journal, in which I had recently been published, held. One of the poems that I read was called “Passerby” (and, to date myself, this was before computers were on our laps and most of us went to the library to write our papers, so I can’t put my hands on this poem easily). The poem was about a woman that I saw one night on a street in New York City. I was leaving a play and walking back to my hotel, and it was raining in the Spring-time and windy, so the city was cold, damp, and it was miserable to be outside. The woman was standing on a street corner, wearing only a trash bag, pleading for money. She was desperate, she was cold…and I kept walking. I was haunted by that moment, which resulted in my writing the poem. I have been haunted by that moment on many occasions since.

The first summer after Karen and I were married, were were in Sacramento for a family wedding. We stopped at a Starbucks for breakfast, and a man was in the parking lot asking for money. I gave him the cash that I had. I liked to think that I had made progress since that night in New York years ago.

At the end of this week, I was rushing to make one last deadline as Karen was texting me details of our daughter, who was sick and had a fever. She needed to me to get medicine to bring home, and I was scrambling on a deadline that I couldn’t miss. As I finally got enough in working order to leave the office and pick up the medicine, I stopped at a traffic light. A woman was standing in the median, holding up a cardboard sign that proclaimed that she was homeless and needed money. I averted my eyes. I didn’t have any cash in my wallet to give her…it’s not like I was refusing to give up what I had. The issue was that I couldn’t think about her. My entire attention was focused on getting what our daughter needed and getting it home. I couldn’t ponder the humanity of that woman’s position. I couldn’t consider it. I didn’t have enough room in my head.

I don’t want to forget those people. I don’t want forget that woman from years ago wearing the trash bag…I pray that she is well and sheltered and with loved ones as I write this, whomever she was. I don’t want to be so absorbed in the insanity that is life in our age that I forget those with whom I am walking the journey. If I do, then I think that I am doing just as much wrong as not pausing that night in New York to even see if I had cash to give. I don’t want to repeat that error.

And I so often fear that I already have.


  1. What a strong post, wow. I’ve been haunted by similar things, honestly. I’ve walked by people who needed money, mostly because I’ve heard countless times that they’ll just turn around and use that money to buy drugs. But, since I’m currently writing a novel that deals with drug abuse, I’m beginning to gain a whole different perspective on this … to the point that my world is a turned a bit upside down.

    I’d love to read that poem if you ever find it. I went to college when laptops were a fairly new thing. It’s crazy how little time has increased our technology.

  2. Thanks, Michelle. In retrospect, I think that one of the reasons that I didn’t stop that night in New York is because it was night-time on a street in New York…not the place that you want to be revealing where you keep your wallet. I think it was a self-preservation thing, because you become so used to just walking past everyone you see there.

    I’ve also considered the drug thing. I thought about that when I gave money to the Sacramento guy at Starbucks. Karen said something to me then: what he does with it, he has to own. Our job is to show mercy where we can.

    If I ever manage to find that poem again, I’ll send it your way 🙂

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