Looking Back

It’s weird to look back.

I don’t feel old enough to reminsce about the good ol’ days or yesteryears. Surrounded by vibrant people well into their nineties, I am often reminded that there’s a long stretch of life left in front of me to be lived. Yet here I am, reminscing.

Christina, my friend&photographer, asked me to write an article for RevMedia.  A free downloadable edition of Dear World is going to be released soon and I couldn’t be happier. Little over a year ago, I was spending my days on the streets of Portland, surrounded by idealistic photographers and street people. Out of a team of nine, I was the only non-photog, resident writer, and Portland native. Two of the other members had grown up near the city but none of them had spent as much time in it.

Imagine doing an documentary in your hometown. Get past the tourist spots, the nice restaurants, and the civic monuments. Wander past the clean streets and into the dark alleys.  Instead of being offered refreshments or coffee, you get offered pot. Ignore the usual leaders — the mayor, the elected officials — and head towards to tranisitory people who litter the background of your perception of the city.  Exchange meeting people in comfortable houses with underneath freeway overpasses. Sit on a park bench and realize that it’s more than a nice place so people-watch, more often than not, someone uses it as a bed every night. You have to get beyond what you want to believe about your city, about where your tax dollars are going, and look into the eyes of the citzens.

Working on Dear World was hard. I honestly don’t know what I can compare it with. Three months of non-stop emotional trauma. There were so many days that the team members cried out of frustration or sheer exaustion. Taylor, my assistant, and I, went out of our way to go to where the street teens were. As the writers, we wanted to get the gut-wrenching stories. We went to feeds, squats, and half-a-dozen other places with the people that we met. I saw a side of the city that I never had before. Friends and family got worried that I was losing my objectivity when I spent so much time in homeless haunts. Drug fumes lingered on my clothes. When I worked at a coffeeshop, I went home smelling like coffee. When I worked on this book, I went home smelling like pot. After the team had packed up and left, I got sick and spent almost a month in bed. The Dr. was afraid that I had picked up TB on the streets or had contracted mono from the grueling pace. No such luck. Instead, I had picked up an unnamed disease that was cultured in grime and dark alleys. It left my lungs weak and my energy level low for a long time.

Was the experience worth the pain? The answer is a resounding yes. The documentary might be lost and our bank accounts may never become fat because of it but we gained perspective. Our hearts grew. Our hands became outstreached to help instead of clawing for more. Our eyes began to see the invisible people of America, the hurting souls behind the tough masks. Social justice became a passion, not just a trend. Even if no one else is changed by the book, we were. Seeing who I was and who I am now, I can say that yes, it was worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The older (and hopefully wiser) me would change some parts but the essence of it – showing the hearts of the teens, showing God’s heart towards them — I wouldn’t change for the world.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Looking Back”
  1. Nicole says:

    Wonderful post, Caitlin! What a ride you’ve gone through!

  2. martin says:

    I’m glad you are a dreamer, writer, editor…but better check your credentials when it comes to street philosopher. I have worked with all kinds of kids. And just because you find one on the street does not mean they ended there by absuse and neglect…though often it is. Sadly, I recall too many “con” artists who when they didn’t get what they wanted at their broken home (after playing mom against dad) simply took off for what they thought would be an easier way…and of course it wasn’t. Broken down homes create broken down lives, which creates sad, beautiful, hard, people who must con others to survive. Of course is they ever earn an MBA, they’ll end up working on Wall Street. I don’t want to dissuade you regarding empathy, but rather to give you a second thought regarding projecting your feelings on a scene. In the end, if you didn’t engage in dialogue with and then his family you may not be projecting a very truthful image.

    • caitlinmuir says:

      Martin,

      I appreciate that you took the time to articulate your concerns. The point of the post was reflecting on how I learned that all people need a grace. Con-artists, writers, Wall Street workers, politicians, and everyday people that live and breathe. Everyone is broken in one way or another.

  3. martin says:

    Hello Caitlin

    YOu are very kind, but I can’t agree. If you start with all people being broken, then what are you expectations going to be for them? How will you challenge them? How will they ever succeed. And sorry, I won’t waste good pity on con-artists and wall street workers, especially when they are one and the same or as we now know greed-incarnate.

    Knowing when to distinguish between valid forms of empathy and vapid ones is part of gathering practical wisdom.

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