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What is a Life to you?…

Written by: Harmony Wilson

Odd numbers aren’t really my thing. However, every other year we turn an “odd” number. I’m not even into a month of being thirty-three, yet I somehow feel like a completely different person than I did this time last year.

I guess I never thought this much ahead or asked myself where I would actually be at any “specific” age. Here I sit and I honestly can’t explain just how I feel. There is a sense of pride and acknowledgment of just how much growth I have actually done.  I have a new strength that I have never experienced before. A strength to accept the losses in life and keep moving. A strength to accept change and a strength to be better than I was yesterday or today.

Everyone is different in their growth. Everyone learns different lessons at different ages in life. Everyone’s mental growth is different and should never be measured with age. Some of us learn early in life just how fucking hard it can knock you down. Yet, some of us never truly experience that sting of struggle and the climb it takes to rebuild. That is because everyone has an individual story. Right? Whether it be a story of success, failure, or all of the above… We. All. Have… A story.

The fascinating thing about every living being is that each one is different and each individual’s story holds some value as to who we become. Our story is what molds us each and every day. I bet you think I am about to tell you mine. I’m not. It is still being written. As is yours. This isn’t my story, it isn’t my past nor is it about what I foresee my future to be. This is thirty-three…right here, right now… This is me.

As I sit and gaze out my window, the summer breeze cools my face. Listening to the sounds of a summer night and typing away what I hope will have significance or meaning to someone, somewhere, someday. 

I want to change the world… I guess I just assume that we all do. However, that isn’t the case. If it were, there wouldn’t be anything to fight for or to fight against. Of course, sometimes I wish it were that easy. The truth is this life wasn’t meant to be easy. We are here and what we do defines us when we aren’t here anymore.

That, my friends, matters to me. I can’t change the world or make any difference in it if I choose to remain the same person I was yesterday.  One heart, one voice, one soul. Strong enough to take on something that has been placed in front of you without any fear. A truly passionate soul who is unafraid of a world who may disagree or fight back. A soul with a moral compass and genuine compassion for other humans. That is it. It is something you’re born with, I believe. It is a force that grows. It is grown with whatever strengths that have been acquired by what life has dealt to you. I have had my fair share of knockdowns. I can truly say that and I can truly empathize with others who have. I have also been shown that not all of the humans who inhabit this earth can say the same.

A few days ago I came across an article on Facebook and decided to click on the link and read it. Normally I don’t take the time to do so nor do I take such time to scroll through my newsfeed to begin with.  But, this particular article piqued my interest and so I  began to read… 

It was an article from a local news circuit in my community. Smoky Mountain News had published an article and its title read, “Bridge Cleanup Fiasco Could Result in Legal Action.” Hmm, “bridge cleanup.?” I murmured to myself. Having the time and curiosity I started to read.

The article began with a paragraph explaining a group of “concerned citizens” dubbing themselves as “Saving Haywood” could be facing legal action. This particular group was formed as an effort to address the problem of homelessness in our community. The volunteers of this group conducted what they called a “cleanup” by disassembling a makeshift home. This makeshift home was the home of a man and his dog. A home he had created because circumstances in life had left him with no other choice. A man who was working at the time of the “cleanup” as a landscaper and planned on returning… To what, at the time, he called home. A man who was homeless and considered an eyesore to the community. Not the whole community. Just the “concerned ones.” Only an eyesore to the members who really cared about our town and how its appearance was presented. 

I continue to read and the next line is a quote from the homeless man. Stating his name and age at the end of the quote. The quote reads, “Everything I own is gone.” name, age…

My heart fell to my stomach and I felt panic as I tried to continue the article. Hurriedly scanning every next word, as if my life depended on it.

The article begins to explain the circumstances as to why the man became homeless and touched on his past, his previous employment and previous living situations etc. All throughout the article quoting him, because he was the reason for this particular story being published. I make it halfway through the article and the author once again quotes the man. I begin to feel the stinging in my eyes and the lump in my throat turn to tears pouring down my face as he is quoted saying, “Everybody needs a home, or someplace they can call home, where their stuff is, where they can go and relax, decompress and put the world aside and just restore themselves.” “Whether that’s under a bridge or on top of Eagles Nest Mountain, (which is where the more wealthy of our community reside) generally everything you own is at home.”

It was May 1st of 2021 when the volunteers of this group along with four of the city’s local police officers raided what he called his home. Not only violating his right as an American citizen to privacy but also violating our fourth amendment right to have our belongings seized under no authorization by any official … or notice of said seizure of belongings. His belongings and personal items were not only seized by “VOLUNTEERS” of the community. They were all disposed of and tossed out like he was nothing, no one, just as they said, “an eyesore to the community.” His birth certificate, social security card, clothes, cookware, cooler… EVERYTHING tossed into the garbage. Like HE didn’t exist. Like his life had NO value. Like he wasn’t human just like you and me.

The very next quote I read says, “They passed judgment that I was of little to no value, likewise my things.” That was all true. That is exactly what they did. How immoral and unjust this act was. Not only to him but to all the other homeless they had seemingly just bulldozed away weeks before. 

Being quoted in an article from a different news source was one of the leaders of the volunteer group called “Saving Haywood.”  A man who had moved to this community, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains from Florida. He states, “The amount of litter and garbage you tolerate is kind of a barometer of how much civic engagement there is in a community.” He goes on to say, “It’s important to address this. A preponderance of litter lowers property values and sends the wrong message. Syringes definitely need to be addressed.” 

This man moves to the community that I have called home for thirty-three years and wants to be part of a change? A change to better the community. His concern; however, about syringes or homelessness didn’t come across as concern for this community or the people who inhabit it. In fact, it came across to me as someone who moved here to retire and wanted to spruce up the town’s physical appearance. So others, like him, could acquire property to flip. Then sell or rent as profit to line their pockets during retirement. 

This town is very different from the busy and homeless-filled streets of the big cities in Florida. Maybe he really didn’t expect that people in every single state in this country experience real struggle. Maybe he doesn’t know that over half a million people in the country are homeless on any given night and a third of them are unsheltered. Then again, I would hate to make assumptions or judgments about anyone I don’t actually know. That is the very person I DO NOT want to be. 

In this separate article, written by a different news source, ‘The Mountaineer’ goes on to quote this man once more as saying, “ There is a preponderance (he seems to like using this word in his verbiage) of nonprofits thinking they are doing a great thing by providing constant handouts, but that has a negative effect as well.” he goes on to say, “It should be a hand up instead of a handout.”

The word “trash” was used quite a bit in this article by ‘The Mountaineer.’ However, how much of what they bagged up during all the weeks they have been “saving Haywood” was actually trash? How much of the bags were filled with someone’s last and only items from whatever former life they had before their current struggle? How much of what was bagged up was food, or their only means of identification such as birth certificates or social security cards? Things required to seek employment in this country. The group bragged in this article about how much they had “accomplished” and how much more could be “accomplished” with more hands. With more volunteers, more people are eager to “SAVE HAYWOOD.”

I say, kudos to all who volunteered to really make our town better. You all made such a positive difference in the town. That is, positive for yourselves. You can’t roll your sleeves up and seemingly bulldoze people’s lives away and say you are doing “good” in a community. I know this town and I know that there are many others just like it. I also know that the “bible belt” label most small towns have is just a barrage. Just because you show up to church every Sunday and Wednesday looking your best, doesn’t mean ANYTHING to God. He knows your heart and he sees your thoughts and your actions. You don’t get into what you call Heaven by putting on a show for the people around you. That isn’t how it works. Sadly, that is all I see. I wish I could say it is just my perception of how things look; however I have been proven that it is not. 

Playing that card seems to work though. Small towns, bible belt, good ole boy towns just like this one. As if all that hypocrisy isn’t bad enough. People, like this man, want to move here to retire and do even more harm. They want to help with making our town more beautiful and less of an eyesore.

Yes, as I sit here and type away, the summer night breeze no longer cools my cheeks. In fact, my cheeks are flushed with red. I’m so outraged when I think about how much is wrong with what is being done to the community of our homeless. How immoral, unjust and disgusting it is to just throw someone’s belongings and their life to the wayside. Because they’re bothersome to what some want to seem like a “perfectly beautiful little tourist town in the mountains.”  Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that this happens everywhere. I wish with everything in me that I could change that. Changing someone’s mindset is hard to do. Especially people with no moral backbone. I can, however, see what is going on right in front of me. I can try to be the change, be the voice for the people who aren’t even given a chance to have one. The people who are just like you and I… I aim to do just that. 

That homeless man under the bridge… has a name. His name is Elijah. He is human and deserves to be treated as such. He is intelligent. He is funny and witty. He is talented and he has a heart. A heart that has taken on more struggle than most ever will. That man living under a bridge… he is my brother. I KNOW who he is. I know what he has to offer this world. I know his heart and I know he, nor anyone else anywhere, ever deserves to be treated any less. His backstory is no one’s business. His life and means of living…. No one’s business. We as American citizens have that right. The right to privacy as we bear the same right to our belongings. 

At the end of the day, you could say it all boils down to politics …  Isn’t that all this situation is about? This crisis in my hometown, this crisis in our country. It’s just politics. You see a story like this one on tv or read about it in the newspaper or online. However, your reaction after that defines your character. Are you the person who says, “ good, I’m glad someone is finally cleaning up the mess.” or the one who says, “Wow, that is so sad and immoral and just wrong” Yet, you shake your head and go about your day. Forgetting by the end of the day that you even read the story at all. As the sun sets and you get ready for bed after eating a warm meal and taking a hot shower.  There are people just around the corner wondering where they are going to lay their heads and rest their weary eyes once more. With an empty stomach and dirty clothes on their backs they search. Hoping to get some sleep if any and prepare themselves to take on the cruel world when the sun once again rises. For them, tomorrow is another battle. Another constant uphill climb and that must be so mentally and physically draining that it’s hard to even fathom.

We are quick to forget and put it aside because we can’t change the world, right? Quick to put it aside because we are too busy and it just isn’t our problem. Quick to put it aside because we have enough on our plate each and every day, enough to deal with. While in the back of our mind’s we painfully hope that someone else WILL actually deal with it. Someone else will fix the problem. Someone else will find a better solution. Someone else, someday. Just not us and just not today.

I know, I have thought this. I have done this most of my life. Whether it be something I have no control over or something I could have had a voice about but didn’t. Not that I didn’t care or wasn’t passionate about certain things. I just selfishly felt like my own struggle was enough and I couldn’t possibly take anyone else’s problems on. 

As a single mother of three kids working and going to college. Some days I’m barely keeping my own head above water. “I know it’s out there but what can I do?” I say to myself… I can ignore it, choose not to watch the news, or read articles online. Turn my head when I see someone holding a sign or standing outside a soup kitchen. Because if I don’t see it! Well, then I don’t have to feel guilty for not trying to do my part. 

Every day is a new day! A new start and another chance to change what you couldn’t change yesterday. You are the only person that you have to face in the mirror.  One day It may become part of your life or be someone who is part of your life. It could be the issue of homelessness or one of the million other issues that are wrong in our country, wrong in our world, even. Put politics and judgment aside and search for a better solution with your heart. I hope everyone, at some point, feels compelled, in their lifetime. Compelled to stand up for something or someone who has no voice or isn’t even given a chance to have one.

I know I am not backing down from this issue in my community. I know what I want to show my children. I want them to see what is right and morally ethical. I know we, as humans, are not here to just merely exist. I may never be or see the change I would like to before leaving this earth. Sadly I feel it will never happen in the entirety of this world’s existence. At the end of the day, my belief is that we are here to love and be loved. We are here to try and understand and respect one another. Here to embrace the differences within each of us. We are here as a test of our morality, our character, and our hearts. One mind, one body, one soul. What are you doing with yours?…

About the author

Harmony Wilson is from Waynesville, NC. She is a mother of three and works as a Blackjack dealer at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and is currently a full-time student, working towards her BSN. To read more from Harmony, visit her blog here. 

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