I can’t sleep.
This is not because of worry or depression or anxiety.
This time, when my eyes close, I’m whisked away to another land.
When my eyes close, I start to piece together words. “Ani lo yodea ma atah omrem.” I seem to be saying to my Hebrew teacher, “I don’t know what you are saying.” I have no idea if this is even the right way to put the sentence together or if I got all the words right. But what little Hebrew I know floods back to me.
When my eyes close, I imagine going back to my host family’s dinner table and being able to follow along without the kids having to translate ever so slowly for me. I don’t have to have the delayed laugh of someone who is only pretending to know what the punch line was.
When my eyes close, I see me working in the fields. Or maybe in the city at some hotel. I see new friends and strangers to chat with.
So I can’t sleep. But it is okay, I’m seeing the future. And it looks great.
I watched a strange thing happen today outside my bedroom window.
Two men were walking down the street. Nothing too out of the ordinary, they looked normal enough. Still in their prime years of life – maybe mid 40s. But life had taken a toll on their bodies – especially their faces. They were worn down. Their clothes suggested that they were a part of that once great American middle-class; but, like most of the middle-class, had fallen onto harder times.
That was perhaps obvious by their actions. See, it is garbage day on the other side of the street. All of the big blue city garbage cans are lined up on the sidewalk. These two men were making their way from house to house along the blue jewel lined drive. They would quickly and methodically rummage through the trash for recyclables and other things they could use. The man with slightly nicer clothes and a younger look would open the lid and begin to tear open each trash bag inside. He moved with the skill of a fisherman removing the tissue from a mollusk in search of a pearl. Anything he pulled out he would hand to the older man who was standing by their shopping cart, sorting their new found treasure.
They came from the west side of the house, I heard them before I saw them. Then they came into the scope of my window frame. I looked on with suspicion and curiosity at first – my normal reaction for anyone I don’t recognize as living on the street. They were at the house with a young family and I knew they didn’t live their. The two men laughed briefly as they rummaged. Laughter is always a welcome relief to the hardships of life. Then the younger man closed the lid and they moved onto the next house. Framed almost perfectly in the center of my window now, I wasn’t suspicious anymore. Garbage rummaging is a common thing in this area. But these men were not the norm.
This neighborhood has always been a refuge for the fringes of society. Founded by immigrants and fueled by those who would work hard for little pay, the residential part of Ybor was always more poor than Tampa to the southwest or Temple Terrace to the north. There is a certain look to most people here. It is hard to explain but once you know ‘the look’ of who belongs here, it is like an unspoken passport. Those who belong move freely. Those who don’t have the look or feel are constantly watched by all the peering eyes of countless porch dwelling folks or those passing by on their ways.
These two men were somewhere between the two. The clothes for sure said they had not grown up in Ybor or similar socio-economic areas. But their bodies, upon closer watch, spoke of their journey into the throws of the poor masses. I felt for them. What life had they come from? How high did they fall to be rummaging for trash on a hot day in Florida? Is there family involved? Is this just a means to feed hungry mouths of loved ones, or just their next ticket to the escapism of drugs or booze? As they journeyed down the road and out of the view of my window, I couldn’t help but continue to wonder what their individual stories were. And I couldn’t help but realize how many people are just one paycheck away from that very same life.
What a strange state of affairs we find ourselves in.