Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dear Upscale Apartment Residents,

He died near your building. Across the street from the Watergate. On Christmas Eve.

I know. You were worried about such an unsavory site spoiling your holidays. After all, he lived on the streets. And he took a pretty nasty beating to the head.

One of you volunteered to speak with the television media. "I feel so sad," she said, obvious concern etched upon her face. "This is like a very, very good area."

What does one have to do with the other? Oh, yes, I see. The man was homeless. He slept on the streets. His death, perhaps, besmirched your comfy West-End neighborhood?

Authorities said he had no home. But in reality, he did. And he had a name. His name was Yoshio.

The elderly Japanese man didn't speak much English. Some say he wasn't entirely "there," the case with many of our city's indigent population. He mostly communicated through song.

Ella Numera Una volunteered at Miriam's Kitchen this past summer. Back In The Day, we used to call outfits like Miriam's "Non-Profits." Now they're called "Non-Governmental Organizations." NGOs are mostly social service agencies. As an NGO in Our Nation's Capital, Miriam's operates out of a church to try to help people like Yoshio get back on their feet. Or at least try to find some balance in their lives. Miriam's offers a hot breakfast every morning. They provide mental health, medical, housing, clothing, substance abuse & employment services. And that's just a different way to say "home."

Miriam's Kitchen has its head...and its heart...in the right place. Yoshio knew he was loved at Miriam's. He would come every day for breakfast. He often sang to the caseworkers. He would bow, & sing quite softly. American Standards such as "You Are My Sunshine," & "Home on the Range." And always something in Japanese, which the American volunteers tried gamely to learn.

Yoshio also scribbled in books from Miriam's library. Clients don't borrow the donated books; they're allowed to keep them. Since he didn't read English, Yoshio would write Japanese characters in the margins of each book he picked up from the stash. Many assumed this Japanese gentleman faced more than a few "mental health issues." But he was sweet. And he was harmless. And at Miriam's, at least, he knew he had a place in this world.

Christmas Week was a warm one in DC. Temperatures hovered near 60 degrees. Even though the Miriam's staff works hard to find shelter for the hundreds it serves, they readily admit that some of their clients who come to the church basement every morning would much rather sleep out on the streets when the weather is nice. Many of them say they feel safer out in the open. City shelters are kind of scary.

When the story broke, the media didn't really focus on Yoshio. They focused on the neighborhood in which he was found. You Upscale Resdients, who live across the street from the Watergate, one of DC's Finest Addresses. In a building that had housed DC's former mayor. On the fact that Yoshio died on Christmas Eve, presumably spoiling the holiday for all.

I warned Ella Numera Una when she returned from college that a homeless man had been murdered in the West End, near Miriam's. I told her that the victim might be someone she knew. When she came back from volunteering the day after Christmas, she collapsed in the sobs I remember from the sensitive little girl who used to cry when other people hurt.

"Mommy, it was Yoshio," my almost-grown-up child said. "Why would anyone want to hurt Yoshio?"

So, you Yuppie West-Enders, now you know. Yoshio wasn't a bum. He had friends. He was loved.

Yoshio didn't make the Six O'Clock News because of his gentle nature. He made headlines because he was beaten to death across the street from the Watergate. In a wealthy neighborhood. On Christmas Eve.

Here's hoping you all re-discover the love in your hearts some time this New Year,
Mrs. Scribe
Editor's Note: Mrs. Scribe's first contribution to the 2009 Random Complexity Writing Challenge. 668 words.


MissKris said...

For several years my husband and amother man from our church used to go to the Skid Row hotels and shelters to invite people to church on Sunday evenings. The church provided coffee and snacks afterwards for them as well as merchant seamen we picked up who came to Portland from all over the world. Many times we'd invite these people into our home. Our children were exposed to people from all walks of life, all kinds of cultures, this way from an early age. We even had one man from Truk Island over for Christmas dinner. Their stories covered every end of the spectrum. One was a highly educated man who CHOSE to live on the streets. Others had hit a streak of bad luck. Some were just traveling thru the city and didn't know what part of town they were staying in! I have never regretted opening our home to any of them. You know the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? I rest my case.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

A very sobering story. You bring Yoshio to life in the way the media should have. There's a reason I don't like mainstream news.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

I do hope that the people who most need to read your missive about Yoshio's senseless death do...

Lynda said...

You've got me crying for Yoshio. what a sad story.

Z's Mom said...

You should send this story to the local news!

The media was never perfect..but has entirely lost its way in the past few years. Hopefully that changes....but probably not.

Tell your daughter I am truly sorry about her friend.

Tara R. said...

I am so sorry.

Eudea-Mamia said...

I'm so very sorry - for you daughter's loss, for the city of D.C. and for the spin news has become.

desi said...

Perhaps your friend can place a candle and a letter of memorial of some kind on the spot where he died. I think then the residents might think differently about it. It might assuage the grief as well.

Marrdy said...

What a sad thing. I think every city has the same type of people. People who say that only happens on the west side (here in Salt Lake) that would never happen on the East side. Sorry your sweet daughter had to loose someone like this. Such a heartbreaking thing to happen!

Susie said...

I hate snobish people who put things in front of humans.

BPOTW said...

Every human has a story, and a heart. Unfortunately that is not what most people actually care about.

LegalMist said...

What a sad story, and a beautiful tribute. Please tell your daughter I am sorry for her loss.

former dc resident said...

you are a terrible writer

Braja said...

former dc resident: and you are an even worse commenter....I'm sure I've stepped in puddles that are deeper than you.

Good post; reflective of the age we live in and the so-called priorities of the small minded, shallow, nobodies who inhabit the earth. Ugh to that creature who was interviewed...

mannequin said...

Oh my. I can't believe the insensitivity displayed at the horrible death of a human being.
I don't think, or rather, I suppose I want to think, that maybe people really do care but the problem is in the translation of their feelings.

So very sad.

Tiffany said...

I can't believe I missed this post until now. You've given us a lot to think about. Thank you for telling Yoshio's story.

Have you read the book "Same Kind of Different as Me"? I think you might like it. I think you would find it very interesting. Yoshio's story makes me think of that book. Different people, different story and yet, the same.


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