The third of my gratitudes is for wealth and prosperity. Even when I've been at my lowest points in terms of income and financial solvency, I have still been richer than the vast majority of humans on Earth. We have to maintain our perspective, lest we become ungrateful and take our first-world status for granted.
This poem was written and then later updated, most recently in 2011, as a reminder to me that we have a responsibility to remain aware of our privilege at all times. Though we are all richer than most, within Canada we also suffer from income inequality, homelessness, exploitation and health insecurity. Most Canadians stand only a paycheque or two from homelessness themselves — the razor’s edge is sharp. This is a reflection that I believe still holds relevance today:
the white wand lightly taps the music stand
and a hush falls over the well-appointed crowd
murmurs melt to sated silence as the musicians brace
to feed them the richness of melodic sound
singers smooth flowing robes and some adjust music sheets|
small movements, gentle throat clearing noises|
all eyes focus on the conductor of the performance
and then at the moment of truth, a unified inhalation ...
i'm conducting thangs ... ohh ehhh owww ...
let’s think this through for a moment –
we wantonly waste energy and resources in fancy hotels
where towels are routinely washed after a single use
while those struggling on social assistance at $585 a month
in our largest city choose between housing and eating on a daily basis
Canada has the ninth-largest Gross Domestic Product in the world
but it is gross indeed to see the product of domestic housing policies
we have it all backwards – housing is a badge of citizenship
since much of our social safety net is predicated on street address
but we’ve failed to address the street so our social safety net
has someone to catch
oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise ...
we can't weave that tangled web with strands of fantasy
life simply isn't that simple
when the ability to uplift through education is cancelled out
in favour of the “earning your keep” approach of working for benefits
who really benefits from that?
and if we force young people to live in spaces that stifle their creativity
their abilities and their very breathing so life becomes completely unbearable
how do we determine where the decision first caused an eruption
on the blemish-free face of our wealthy, compassionate society?
i don't want to be the bearer of negative tidings
but we have much more to do to eradicate the scourge of homelessness
and then we must add the dimension of mental health to the symphony
in order to hear the full complexity of the concerto as it plays
i'm conducting thangs ... ohh ehhh owww ...
if all the world's a stage are the homeless the extras?
because in Hollywood even the extras get paid and fed for what they do
and if the extras in this film are being treated less than ordinary
is there little wonder when policy doesn't even begin to account for the state
of most of the minds inhabiting bodies living on the streets?
some people are running from supports to help deal
with the double negative of lack of housing and proper treatment
despite all the statistics on the issues
two negatives can never, ever be added together to make a positive
but it's clear that putting housing first instead of expecting miracles
to materialize that give the homeless instant keys to a new place
before they have full access to necessary services they require
has to be turned on its head, so housing comes first
and provides people in need with the solid foundation from which to soar
have you seen her? tell me have you seen her? ...
housing should never be a precondition for treatment, but rather
a home must become the prerequisite to shift what we consider treatment
how we treat the homeless is the treatment we should be focused on
so they receive the medical and psychological treatment they require
and our systems of care treat them like full citizens of this country and
value their physical autonomy and safety equally so homes can be found for all
i'd like to treat our policymakers to a few hours with those who need fairer treatment
and i'd like to see us as a society treat housing as a fundamental right
because it's clear that living on the street with mental health concerns
has to be the furthest thing from a treat you can imagine
and i know from what i was taught as a child that it’s how we treat those
with the greatest need that determines the true strength of our compassion
Mr. Wendal has tried to warn us about our ways
but we don't hear him talk
is it his fault when we've gone too far
and we got too far 'cause on him we walk ...
we don't worry on a daily basis about access to mental health services
and i know i can get a meal anytime and have the means to travel about easily
so to even speak credibly about homelessness i must first acknowledge my privilege
and know it’s possible i can lose it one day and be on the streets myself
for in my own life, only once, and only briefly, it did happen to me
so i ask all aspiring change agents out there
to consider what life would be like without your privilege
think about what it would be like to have your supports ripped rudely away
would you know what to do while in the depths of emotional torment
and could you keep your mind together long enough to figure it out?
oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise …
the music comes to an end, the musicians lower their instruments
choir members complete the final note with mouths shaped in elegant O's
the crowd roars its approval as the rafters shake from applause
and the people on the stage break into huge, spontaneous grins of joy
the tuxedos and ball gowns rise from their lushly upholstered seats
and stream towards the exits, their vehicles and their home addresses
they pass a woman at the entrance suffering in her mind and body
do they allow their hearts and spirits to pay her any heed?
you can tell by the lines on her face
you can see that she's been there
probably been moved on from every place
'cause she didn't fit in there
oh, think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise
oh, think, twice, it's just another day for you
you and me in paradise.
© A. Gregory Frankson, 2011. All rights reserved.