One thing that is psychologically jarring for me, here in Los Angeles, is to see the extremes of wealth alongside deep poverty and brokeness. I see it most acutely when I am downtown. You can buy a $6,000 suit on one block, and two blocks from that you can mingle with the desperate junkies.
I’ve heard an interesting story about Sitting Bull. Later in life, he traveled with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show as part of the cowboys vs. Indians routine (where, of course, the cowboys always win). Sitting Bull made a good bit of money from he show, he was immensely popular; however, he gave almost all of it away. He would give his money to all poor white people who asked him, and he couldn’t understand why there were people who were not taken care of. Native tribes are far more communal than white Europeans, each person is cared for.
Today I was eating a sandwich at a Subway restaurant in downtown L.A. I usually don’t eat at Subway – I would normally support a local cafe, but I was given a gift card at Christmas by a very kind person. I was nearly to the end of my sandwich, and I was quite enjoying it, when a Hispanic man came in, a street person. He came in the door and walked straight to me and began to gesture that he was hungry, saying something that sounded to me like he was asking for some change. I was a bit taken back by his demeanor, because although he was not demanding or forceful, neither was he merely voicing a typical hey-man-can-you-spare-some-change query. He had an edge about him.
I handed him a dollar, and he snatched it and immediately began gesturing at the last vestiges of my sandwich. “Sure,” I mumbled, after taking a few seconds to let it sink in. “You can have it,” I replied, feeling like it took three years to respond. He grabbed the sandwich, was back out on the street as quickly as he had appeared, and was probably finished with my sandwich before he was gone from view.