Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Las Vegas: An American Right of Passage

This past week I went to Las Vegas for 5 very tiring days. Anyone who has been to Vegas knows what I am talking about, it is exhausting! You are constantly on the go, constantly doing something, constantly drinking, and constantly making less than ideal life decisions. I was not too keen on this trip to Vegas (I would have preferred an island in the Caribbean), but having the opportunity to hang out with some of my favorite people, I didn't want to pass it up. Whenever I hang out with this group of people, lasting memories are always created. This trip was no different that is for sure! I will never forget some of the stories that we created while we were there... You want to know what they were? You should have come to Vegas. :)

While I was in Vegas though, I saw some very troubling things. I saw things that had a lasting effect on my psyche and my overall take on that city and life in general. One night while we were on Freemont Street, there was a homeless man harassing casino patrons. We walked up right around the time he was being arrested and slammed to the ground. Another homeless man came up and started telling us what the deal was and what was going on. For the last few days this man had been harassing patrons in hopes he would get arrested so that he could go to jail and have a warm bed to sleep in and a hot meal to eat. This other man was laughing at his predicament like it could never happen to him and that he was too good for that kind of behavior. It made me think seriously about what we do to make ourselves feel better about our situations at the expense of other people.

In my middle class eyes, there was no difference to me between these two men. There was just one who was in a little more dire straights than the other. Looking at them in this city that has so much wealth and excess though, this behavior should not be something that has to be done. Hotels throw out thousands of pounds of edible food daily. There are rooms that are not booked, there is furniture and bedding that is thrown away for new stuff regularly. Everyone wants to turn a blind eye to a big problem and pretend that it can not happen to them. Myself included, I could easily lose my job. What then? I don't have anyone to fall back on that can afford to pay my fat ass mortgage or that I can even expect to do that. I could easily end up in the same situation and we all turn our eyes away from it and pretend that it is not a problem. I am fully aware that some people create their own problems and that drug/alcohol/mental problems is the reason that many homeless people are where they are due to these things, but there are also people like you and me. There are educated people that used to be middle class and earn a decent wage until corporate greed killed their financial security and left them with nothing. There are military veterans who were pushed out of the military because of downsizing who can't get jobs and can't live on the $700 a month in unemployment.

We seem to be a cruel society that looks at poverty with hardened eyes and I am not sure why. In our eyes that only happens to people who don't play the game of life. The ones who don't put in the hard work to create the "American Dream" for themselves. This is a huge misconception among the middle class. We are the ones who are most vulnerable to end this way. We are the ones carrying huge mortgages and trying to "keep up with the Jones'" not saving nearly enough to fund our futures or emergencies. With the return of hundreds of thousands of war veterans soon, I do hope that we can all be a little more compassionate to those in need because we may find many of them with no place to go just as we did after the Vietnam war. It breaks my heart to see people starving when I have plenty of food to share, or no place to sleep when I have plenty of room for them and extra beds. It makes me feel like a fake and a sell-out. Now what can I do about it?

Om Mani Padme Hum

Tibetan Buddhists believe saying the mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect. It is often carved into stones and placed where people can see them.