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  • Writer's picturecocodensmore

Is it privilege or is it choice?

April 6, 2024

I live a bit over a mile east of downtown Portland. It is still “downtown” in my mind, it is definitely not the suburbs. But here, a bit removed from the downtown core, the elements of the pain and suffering of the unhoused who struggle with mental illness and addiction spill over on the streets in front of my building. There is a man who lives in a van behind the dumpster behind my building. There is a tent across the street from Safeway just four blocks west, and one I pass to the east as I round Weidler onto Broadway.

Weidler is much traveled. The noise of passing vehicles is constant throughout the day. There’s an intersection just below me, so I hear the idling of the engines of aging vehicles at the red light. I hear the groan and hiss of the buses applying and releasing their air brakes, and the steady beep of the hydraulic lift as it lowers to onboard travelers in wheelchairs.

There are firetrucks and ambulances and police cars with lights and sirens at all hours. The sirens are so varied in tones and rhythm I can never quite pinpoint which siren belongs to which vehicle without seeing them. And just now, as if on cue, an ambulance flies through the intersection. I watch as it disappears to the north, the lights going dark long before the sound of the siren fades to nothing. I say a prayer for whomever they are racing to save.

Throughout the day, and more often at night, I hear the frenzied, tortured vocalizations of those making their life on the street. I say a prayer for them, I pray for peace for them. And then I ponder why I am safe and warm and fed and comfortable, surrounded not by opulence, but certainly by abundance, in this small unpretentious senior apartment.

Is it privilege or is it choice?

I suffer mental illness, I suffer mercilessly. But I aggressively manage my condition. Just four months into this living situation, I’ve established with a primary care physician who has taken over my med management. A referral to psychiatry is in the works, I’m considering TMS for a fifth time. I’m diligent, nay militant about my medication regime. I’m working hard to find a therapist, although I’ve not had much success. Yet, I persist with my characteristic tenacity, which often comes across as annoying obnoxious demanding entitlement. It’s not. It’s me fighting for my life. Always fighting. I’m ever hopeful, I’ll never surrender to this disease. I don’t think I will, that is. Never say never. But if history proves anything it proves I Persevere.

Is it privilege or is it choice?

As many hours, countless hours, I’ve spent trying to figure out why I’ve been able to make a life of comfort and pursue and attain many of my goals, and even many of my dreams, I do not know what is different about me than those tortured souls who surround me.

Is it privilege or is it choice?

I really just do not know.


But, more important than all of this, what is to be done about it?



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