Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

A Conversation with My Fellow Travelers

I have begun handing out bag lunches in the park by the river. A great number of homeless people hang out there during the day — some in the meadow, some by the pond, some under the trees. The bag lunches are nothing fancy: a sandwich, some fruit, a dessert. I carry them in my rolling cart, and I walk along with my cane, asking people whether they’d like something to eat.

On Monday, I happened upon three guys sitting on benches — two on one bench and one on the bench across from them. Two of the guys were white and looked to be in their 60s. The other was in his 20s and Hispanic. All were very, very drunk. I walked over and asked if they were hungry and wanted some lunch. They took the lunches, and then one of the older guys said to me, “Sweetheart, we’re just a bunch of drunks. You’re traveling in the wrong circles.”

I said, “I don’t care if you’re drunks. You need something to eat, don’t you?”

At this point, the older man on the other bench called me over and gave me a book of scriptural quotes, kissing it first. The book was one of those little 3 1/2″ x 5″ photo albums into which someone had fit pages with scriptural passages. He showed me the pages. “This one is from Romans,” he said. “And this one is from Palms.” (Not Psalms. Palms. I loved that.)

I thanked him for the gift. As I turned to leave, the first man repeated a version of what he had said before: “Sweetheart, we’re just a bunch of drunks. We have money for food, but we spend it on booze. You’re traveling in the wrong circles, sister.”

Somehow, the repetition just stopped me in my tracks. In a split second, I felt so keenly how many people have been cast out from so many circles. I felt so keenly how many circles I’ve been cast out from over the course of my life. I felt how much I love what I do, because I can move through the park, and be accepted, and give kindness and respect, and receive it in equal measure.

So I just smiled and said, “No, brother. There are no wrong circles.”

And then I went on my way, carrying them with me, knowing they are kin.

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


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  1. 9/11/2013 | 2:18 am Permalink

    Thanks so much for sharing this Rachel. Its so true what you said. Its somehow so comforting to break down those artificial barriers that we are in ‘different circles’. I haven’t posted on your blog until now, but I really enjoy reading your posts. Hello from across the pond! I’m a psychology student living in London and have had an illness/disability since age 7. Looking forward to reading more of your posts! Katharine

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  2. 9/11/2013 | 7:55 am Permalink

    Beautiful, Rachel. “There are no wrong circles.”

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  3. 9/11/2013 | 10:15 am Permalink

    much better attitude towards folks who are homeless and have a drinking problem than the “let them bottom out” philosophy which ends up justifying doing nothing for the folks who have bottomed out

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