The woman knitting a scarf was blathering: "Who cares if it looks nice? What does a homeless man care?"
Sitting near her in our gathering of knitters, I was indignant at her insensitivity. I nearly exploded once she bleated, in response to a question about her finishing technique, "No, it doesn't need fringe. I'm not going to all that effort for a homeless man."
As a real estate attorney in suburban New York, I frequently answer phone calls and emails from people who are hanging around the corners of Pending Foreclosure and I Might End Up Homeless. Some arrive by greed, others by deception, but the vast majority trying to hang onto their homes reach that intersection through extended unemployment, curtailed commissions, or mounting medical bills. These are neighbors, friends, and relatives; they are people who bought highly mortgaged homes (or extracted equity as appraisals soared) in their quest to live a middle-class suburban life. While they might now admit that they did not need as much as they borrowed, every single one of them seems stunned as homelessness looms on the horizon.
Maybe the knitter was visualizing some stereotype of homelessness, such as a soused and seedy character living on the streets only because he would not put down the bottle and take up a broom. On the other hand, maybe she had no picture in her mind at all; perhaps her smug superiority arose from pure ignorance of the increasingly impoverished middle class.
But why was I feeling so outraged? Did it really matter what was in her heart if she indeed shared her handiwork with those who needed warmth this winter?
I wanted to shout at the cold-hearted knitter, "Yes! Put on the fringe and make it look nice!" While I truly believe that it does matter in what spirit the knitter shares her talents, the negative vibe she is giving off about our general welfare is the real problem. As long as she thinks any homeless recipient will be lucky to get whatever charitable bone she throws from her insulated perch, she is blind to the urgency of our nation's economic troubles.
Mortgage lenders send forth lobbyists and Wall Street rewards the companies with the largest layoffs. From where I sit and knit, I am firmly convinced that until the rest of us adopt a "we're in this together" attitude and press our elected officials to slow down foreclosures and speed up hiring, home values will keep falling and businesses will keep failing. And there is not enough fringe in the world to keep that kind of cold out.