The wife and I have an annual ritual on Christmas morning. It is all for us. Each Christmas, snow or shine, global warming or polar vortex we go for a long walk along the lakefront. The last few years that ultimate destination has been a place adjacent to Montrose harbor called the Magic Hedge, part of the Montrose Point Bird sanctuary it’s a beautiful bit of wilderness almost unknown to most in the city; a stunning dichotomy with one of the most incredible views of the Chicago skyline through woods, brambles and tall grasses. It’s a world apart, a moment, a brief escape from the heartbreak and unending chaos of the city. Getting there is another story indeed.
I met Steve first. He was sitting up, surrounded in blankets against the cold wall beneath Lake Shore Drive’s Lawrence Avenue Bridge. Fifty-two, with neatly cut salt and pepper hair and a well worn brown leather jacket, Steve claimed to be an ex-marine sniper who served in the 1983 invasion of Grenada. Immediately he was up and asking if there was any job I had for him. He wanted me to know that he wasn’t lazy, that he was down on his luck, fighting back after a couple of tough mistakes, but that he still had value and dreams a d something to offer the world. Steve attends church regularly, struggles with alcoholism and says he starts rehab tomorrow. I wasn’t there to judge. I was there for community.
The clouds that morning had broken, still, under the low confines of the bridge, better than 8 lanes wide, and especially this time of year, the commodity of warmth from sunlight comes grudgingly if at all. Heavy arches partly shield the wide walkway beneath the bridge from the roadway. I’ve come this way hundreds of times over the near 30 years I’ve lived in the city. Never have I seen so many people living under the bridge. I might take the all too prevalent convention that there are just too many people looking for a handout, rather I know it to be a darker indication that this society is failing in its own fundamental humanity.
“Merry Christmas, friends and neighbors,” I announced, carrying a box of food-sandwiches, soda, cookies and fruit-after the wife and I decided to forego our walk and then rushed to a local market to buy food. In a wild, production-line efficiency we built simple sub sandwiches of deli meats, cheese. lettuce, tomato and a vinaigrette on a hearty bread. Our neighbor Julia, struggling herself in a sluggish real estate market, chipped in to help. We wrapped the sandwiches, parceled them among two boxes and raced off to deliver a little bit of unexpected Christmas giving.
“I don’t know about the friend part,” said Steve, rising quickly to offer a welcoming handshake.
“Neighbors then,” I replied. “We’ll work on the friends part.”
I chatted with the five or six men living under the bridge for a time, including a little old Hispanic man who spoke little English. He offered me an appreciative hug. At least two were struggling with mental health issues.
“I’m not here to judge anyone,” I said. “I’m here to help a neighbor. I’m not going to give you any advice, tell you to pull yourself up by your boots straps. I am here, because I had something extra to give and I picked you.”
We had a second box that was intended for the folks we’d seen beneath the Wilson Avenue Bridge. When we arrived there were others there delivering gloves, McDonald’s happy meals. We all chatted briefly, coordinating that our efforts would be maximized and then wished one another a merry Christmas.
There are those who would erase government aid to the homeless and those in need. There is a local ex-congressman who opines for a fictional America in which we all took care of each other instead of the government. But that America never existed. There never was a time in this country where churches cared systemically for the homeless, handicapped, disabled, the poor or elderly. Too many elderly died destitute and alone-your personal story of Grandma Betty living in the attic doesn’t matter here. Have we forgotten Hoovervilles, soup and bread lines of the Depression, the dust bowl, ethnic, immigrant and national ghettos, the influenza pandemic of 1918, skidrows and “insane asylums?’
Have we forgotten that no one kept statistics on poverty and mental illness for much of the 20th century? So the rest is all anecdotal and meaningless. Cholera and dysentery epidemics swept through the nation with alarming frequency through the 19th and early 20th centuries, diseases associated with poverty. Without government assistance many families carrying the burden of a handicapped family member were both ostracized by society as well as relegated often to poverty. Likewise, single parents, especially women, ran a significant risk of being locked into a continuous cycle of poverty, with all that comes with poverty and lack of opportunity.
This is not my country. My country is a nation that self examines and corrects its mistakes, rather than doubling down on indifference and selfishness because criticizing America is anti-American and unpatriotic. My country is a country of humanity. It is a nation of Avenues rather than dead ends that allows and helps people find their way back to the avenue in order to continue the journey. My country is a country of forgiveness and dignity, in which it is guaranteed that all people, of all colors, religions and persuasions are indeed equal. In my country freedom is not a privilege to be controlled by a few who measure it by the cash in one’s pocket, real estate holdings or the color of their skin!
Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting. Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.