I used to have this sad dream. I was hungry and poor and walking around aimlessly ending up in a nice area of town by a restaurant. Inside people were eating and laughing. The food looked so good and the people in there were sitting with their friends. I had no money, no food, and no friends. I stared into that window for a long time. No one noticed me. No one saw me. I was alone in a sea of loneliness.
That dream stuck with me all these years partly because it was my reality at one time. I was poor and lonely for a few years in my life. There were also years in which I was one of those people in the restaurant. I know both sides and life is more fun and more rewarding when you have friends and money.
During those times of feeling like an outcast, like I didn’t belong, I lived as an outsider. I spent much time in my one room at the back of an older house. It was during this time that I became familiar with the culture of the marginalized.
Although some people around me were transient and unpredictable others were steady and solid and helped those around them. The problem wasn’t the people per se, it was that we, the poor and lonely, didn’t fit into mainstream society. Some of us were that way because of poverty and circumstances. Others were there out of consequences of addictions and mental illness, their actions or the actions of others.
What we all had in common though was lack of resources. We had little money and little nutritious food. The basics of life such as shelter and food replaced security, health care, and any future disappeared into the present.
Weakened immune systems and mental and emotional anguish left us vulnerable and feeling uncared for by members of regular society.
The culture of marginalization is based on feeling unloved and unwanted and creates a division between us and them. And this is reinforced when bad things happen in this culture and society doesn’t respond in the same manner as when something bad happens to one of their own.
Being isolated and desperate is a bad combination that makes it easier for predators. I worked unsafe jobs to earn some much-needed cash. Others took to busking if they had talent. Others begged. I was fortunate in that I had a line I wouldn’t cross in order to get money. I avoided dangerous people and situations as much as I could.
Others were not so fortunate.
Deceitful and evil men and women lured them into traps with the offer of money or affection. Prostitution and crime look way more like an option when you are desperate and feel like you are society’s trash.
Low self-worth, being in vulnerable and dangerous circumstances, families that have lost contact or lack resources to help all contribute to making the marginalized invisible.
When someone is invisible, no one notices when they are gone. No one except other invisible people without a voice or power to help.
It is from this culture that most of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous women are taken. And there are many non-Indigenous women missing as well.
In my research on this topic, I have seen the difference in coverage and police action between invisible people and society people. I have no doubt that there is less interest and less resources put into play regarding marginalized women. It really appears as if society cares more about the women who need less protection overall than those who are most vulnerable to predation.
What’s the solution? It is very hard to make some one care about those who are victimized and can be a problem for polite society. But I am reminded of one other group that was treated in similar fashion; lepers.
Lepers were the ultimate outcasts. No one wanted them near, and they were feared and despised. Except by Jesus. He loved them and healed them. He touched them, and he healed them, and he told us to do the same:
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
Maybe the solution for us today is to do what Jesus says. To see our invisible and marginalized people as part of our society, part of our culture. And treat them as Jesus did.
More in this series:
Andy Becker is a pastor, retired counsellor and former CEO of a Hospice organization. Currently, his wife, Stella and Andy, lead both Lighthouse ministries and Bread of Life ministries in North Central Regina, one of Canada’s poorest and roughest neighborhoods. His book, The Travelers, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.