I used to make up cover stories about Sean when he first started living a nonconventional life–dropping out of high school, going to rehab (last I heard, he was still sober, yay!), leaving the work world, sleeping in empty buildings. “He’s trying to find his way,” I would say, smiling. Beyond that, I didn’t offer many details and most people didn’t push it.
But eventually I started telling the truth. It was disrespectful to tell lies, and in many ways I did respect his choices even if I didn’t understand them. He was, and is, doing something very few people have the courage to do: live his principles.
Sean is emotionally incapable of working in the kind of petty hierarchy that his retail-sales jobs assured him (and really, aren’t most workplaces constructed that way?). His cultural studies–feminism, LGBTQ, psycholinguistics, philosophy–revealed to him a mycelium of socioeconomic contracts that ensure the domination of consumerism. The idea of being forced to spend his life working jobs he hates, to earn the right to eat and sleep, galls him. He wants no part of it. Sean envisions a world of bartering, freedom, nomadism, shared property. Many younger people do, hence the rebirth of communes, urban co-ops, free farms that are sprouting around the globe. The ’60s meet pending climate-induced Armageddon.
People generally are startled when I tell them my son is homeless. “You mean, he’s backpacking?” they ask hopefully. It takes a few tries for me to convince them that he really does live on the street and that it is a lifestyle choice, not a default (although, I often reflect that it is a default because there really are no condoned avenues for those who want to live outside of society).
I think it’s important for people to know that they know people who love homeless people. That they are not wasted people, unloved, unconnected, without history or family. Before Sean even went homeless, I used to pass people sleeping on the subway vents and think to myself: This was somebody’s beloved son. It eased my discomfort to think that they had been held in warm arms somewhere in their lives.
Being direct about Sean’s situation opens me up to other peoples’ opinion–and unwanted advice–more often than it helps me to accept our condition. People who have never had children often tell me, “Oh, he’s just trying to grow up. You need to lead your own life now and let it go.” People who have children give me fix-it suggestions: Can I get him on meds? Has he seen a psychiatrist? Maybe a job will help.
None of these suggestions is particularly wrong; they’re just so wearingly passé. Of course he’s seen a psychiatrist, taken meds, had jobs. And yes, I have attempted to lead my own life–I’m leading it now–and tried with every part of my being to “let go.” We–meaning Sean and I–have done these things and hundreds of others in an effort to heIp him feel more stable inside and find his place in the world.
As for letting go, I think I’ve done a damn fine job . I am able to sleep every night without medication. I can go to work everyday and concentrate reasonably well. I can visit with friends, laugh, cook, walk and find joy in every day I live. But there is this one thing. And it never goes away. It lives in my heart and throat, a constant throbbing. My mother love.
That love center between Sean and I is very deep. Probably more so than many mothers and sons. It’s a connection that my own mother, for instance, cannot understand. She thinks I should just let him be to forge his own independent life–even if, heart wrenchingly, it means living a penniless, dangerous street life. Some parents have stronger radar than others. Mine went on red alert a few weeks ago when my concern for Sean traveled from my head to my heart. Something’s wrong. I don’t know how I know this is true–and I pray it is not–but my instinct is telling me very loudly to try to connect with him.
What if I ignored that calling? I’ve certainly had thousands of impulses to go find him. The difference this time is that I’m not propelled by my anxiety. It is a stronger, more stable voice. I have to go look for Sean because it is the right thing to do. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. Whether he will look at it that way or not, I can’t control But I need to know that as a mother I did every damn thing I could.