Monday, March 24, 2014

On Wearing a Backpack

The past week or so, most every time I take a walk, I wear my big backpack, weighed down with 25-35 pounds. It’s quite bulky at that weight, bulging with a blanket and sugar bags stuffed inside, with huge water bottles hanging on the outside. And as a result of its noticeable nature, I’ve gotten some interesting reactions.

"Hi! I'm here to kidnap your children."
Most people, especially those in the tourist district where I often walk, just stare curiously. I think some of them are trying to figure out if I’m a European or something. I suppose some people are good at concealing their stares, but the ones I notice are the ones who seem to believe that nobody can see them. It would be at least less obvious if they closed their mouths before craning their necks to try to figure me out.

When I’m not in the tourist area, just walking around town, I am met with decidedly greater suspicion. People avoid eye contact and don’t smile at me. A few days ago, Zachary and I walked to the library. It was a hot day so I was a bit sweaty by the time we entered the building. I headed over to the water fountain, and inadvertently stepped between a mother and her young son. 

She immediately tensed up. I could feel her eyes boring a hole in my neck as I quickly stepped to the side so I wasn’t in the way of her son anymore. Her son drank from one water fountain, and I from the other— and the mother stared at me the whole time with clear anxiety. When her son returned to her, she bustled him away quickly.

I don’t claim for an instant that I understand what it’s like to be truly looked down upon because of social class. However, I feel like I’ve gotten a tiny glimpse into what it’s like to face the world as a homeless person. The suspicion, the stares, the fear, the pity. People eager to observe you but not interact with you. 

In four weeks I’m going to be a dirty, smelly backpacking bum myself, but it’s by choice rather than necessity. In the meantime, wearing a backpack around my upper-middle-class suburban hometown has made me a bit more thoughtful about the way I interact with people, especially people who appear to be homeless. 


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