The golden coin rolled into the vomit. The man in the wheelchair could not reach it. He still drooled from the fresh offal. At his feet the puddle of rancid yellow and brown goo prevented people from standing close. Yet still, his outstretched hand, begging passersby, beckoned. And since there, I stooped, plucked the golden Canadian dollar up from his wretch, and though it dripped from the pinch between my forefinger and thumb, I more carefully dropped it into the filth of his palm. A regular on the street corner, the homeless man could only grunt. He does not speak. He cannot move himself. Inarticulate, uneducated, virtually immobile, and indisposed, this man has been on much the same corners for over six years now. He always recognizes me. He always gives a wave. At times I've gone to get him a coffee. (He once was able barely to get the phrase out). Sometimes he'd get a coin or two. And sometimes I've happened to be close enough to see other homeless people dipping into his silver coffee tin, giving him a pat, and then their ambling on. What he does for his toilet needs one does not want to know. What he thinks, day in and out, there with his head hung low, and there with his rags for clothes and his hair unkempt and his teeth rotten and his eyes glazed and his hardly able to talk is a great pain to see. In fact, for most people as they go on by, he is made invisible. Very few acknowledge his presence. Very few drop coins into his cup. And when he sits there, in suspect puddles beneath his wheelchair, or with evident droppings close to him, he is among the great sad sights in our universe. Late in the day an old woman, achingly disheveled, hauls him away. Yet to take on the full responsibility of attending to him; to see to his longevity; that's something entirely beyond normal expectation. We have institutions for that. We have a social contract. We have government workers and programs. And so we can walk on. After all, the value of picking up a dropped coin in the vomit is dependent entirely on the value of the coin itself. I would not have picked up a dime, nor a quarter, not a nickel, and definitely not a farthing.
Back in my parked car I carefully wipe my fingers with two or more of the antiseptic cloths from the plastic container we keep handy. Passengers in the car, sometimes a dog, children especially, all leave fingerprints and... Well, better to keep things clean. But we cannot wipe away the offal of our societal constructs. We cannot always choose who we see. We cannot make invisible the makings of others. We are best to watch where we walk. And by looking ahead, we can even avoid the unpleasantness of stepping into the turds below. Sometimes hindsight helps too! After all, since history happened, we may as well learn from it. No?
The voting card between my fingers (the same ones I'd dirtied with vomit) I now carried into the booth. Around me were tables of officials, all making checks of identification documents and people's addresses. And when putting down the distinct privilege, for me, of my X, I knew that my choice reflected the freedom to do so. But was my choice the right one? We sift through the crap given to us by the political system. No sooner do I feel strongly approving of one candidate than someone else, some TV advertisement, some newspaper heading or essay or article spews out to confront my surety. Friends and acquaintances do too. No one is pure. No one is entirely right. Or is he, or is she? Hope springs eternal. And in the confusion of obfuscations and improprieties and insecurities, I make my best stab at finding the gold among the dross. Like plucking up the coin; one hopes that one has made the gesture worthwhile.
Our actions build onto our societies, however small. Each little thing has a momentum that, if well-intentioned, one can but hope one is contributing toward the health of the whole. But the degree to which we fool ourselves, too, is measured in the detractions. Yet not to act, to pretend that some bits and parts of life are to be avoided; not to be critically examined, included, assimilated, and integrated; is to miss out on being effectual where one can. The degree of conscious thought we put into things becomes the measure of our progress, our measure of contribution. Or do we simply not vote at all?