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Commentary: invisible people

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The tumbling economy is forcing more people to learn what it means to be poor. But there are many North Country residents who live in perpetual poverty. Commentator Jill Vaughan has spent a career working closely, intimately, with those people. But she doesn't see them much anymore.

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Invisible People

They're gone- the whole bunch of them.  I'd always known they weren't visible to  everyone-  but I never expected them to recede from my view the way they have.

For almost twenty years I've worked with the poorest people in Franklin county- the people on Public Assistance.  I've known the dynamics of their families, known their children's dispositions and teachers.  I talked to them and wrote letters to them. I've championed them, been angry with them, had my heart broken by the hopelessness of their situation. 

And now, they're gone. 

I switched jobs.  I thought I'd see them around-but I don't.  They are the invisible people.  They have no transportation, and its winter. Someone's posture on a sidewalk will call my attention, and I realize it is someone who was on my caseload.   Now and again I'll see a jacket that's familiar. But the jackets will eventually be thrown out or outgrown, and people will be anonymous bodies with heads bent into the cold.

I knew they were dispossessed.  I knew they didn't shop or didn't attend school concerts.   But wouldn't our paths intersect somewhere?  No.  They don't have warm clothes, and their personal ecology is not to seek out the cold and uncomfortable; they're facing enough inner stress.  Garage-sale strollers don't work in the snow, and who has money for winter clothes for the kids?

I thought they might call me- was worried I'd be overwhelmed.   I forgot how inured they are to loss and abandonment.  There's no sense wasting energy on anything but mute acceptance.  Feelings are something to put a lid on, if possible.  Grief is self-indulgent, and loneliness is dangerous. 

I still know where they live- the kitchens I've sat in hundreds of times, the crowded porches where extra people sleep, or stuff is piled.  But maybe they don't live there anymore.  They have no permanent addresses -phone numbers and houses  shift like fog.

They're gone- no, I'm gone.  I removed myself from their universe- they're still there.  I am close enough that I still see some faces- still hear some conversations.. but the connections are loosening, the time  is late and the sounds are fading.  I feel the goodbye in my mind, and feel the absence in my soul.

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