Every time I walk to my work place, I encounter homeless people. There is this one older man, in his 70ies I would guess, who inhabits the porch of Urban Outfitters, a store selling fashionable clothing to trend-consicous consumers. During the day the man moves all his possessions on a street nearby. He is oftentimes surrounded by students asking questions and making notes in their Moleskine notebooks.
Then there is the People’s park. It is located right next to my workplace, the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. People’s park accommodates some tens of homeless people all year round. During the day, these people hang their mattresses on the trees, put their stuffed animals and other stuff into plastic bags, and turn sleeping places into living spaces. Everyone walks pass the park, but no one enters it.
Every time I walk pass these homeless people – the woman pushing a shopping cart, or the young guy talking to himself – I dare not look them into eyes. I keep thinking, how intrinsically wrong it is that people are living under these conditions. Severe income inequality keeps hitting me in the face, and yet, I feel there’s nothing I can do about it.
Ironically, the focus of much of sociological research at UC Berkeley has been on inequality or racial issues. Indeed, a lot of data wandering around the streets. Makes you want to pose questions about the impact and role of research within the society.
And then, there is this indescribable beauty of nature that you experience, here in Berkeley or back in Finland, and never forget. Like the fresh breeze of air with a smell of eucalyptus on your face in the morning. Or like the feeling of cold water around your naked body when you jump into a lake. The smell of mowed grass, or pine trees in the Spring. Touch of snow flakes on your cheeks. Sunset. Sound of an ocean, or wind. Watching leaves turn into red and yellow when the Autumn comes, or flowers blossom in the Spring.
Or the feeling of warm sand against your feet.
It has been raining hard lately here in Berkeley. Now the rain seems to have stopped fo a while, but coldness arrived. Sky is clear, and you can see thousands of stars. The view is so stunning that it takes your breath away. It takes you all the way down to the basics, asking the ancient and most primitive questions about why are we here, and who designed this all. How come such beauty exists?
Then you go inside. It’s warm and nice. You take a glass of wine, and light up some candles. And you can’t stop thinking about the man, who sleeps in front of Urban Outfitters.