Friday, January 05, 2018

Watering the Winter Garden

It was the last morning of the year when I saw him. I was stopped at a red light on the access road. He was hunched over his cane, hobbling slowly on the median extending along the intersecting street. He moved slowly, so carefully. He looked like a winter garden, beaten down, without promise, cold. I was warm as I watched him. My car was warm — my seat heaters were doing their job. As I watched him I thought about that bit of absurdity. What a luxury I have with heated seats in my car while that guy is begging for food.

There but for the grace of God.

He had a rough-cut piece of cardboard in one hand and his cane in the other, balancing between his message and his steps.

I pulled $20.00 from my wallet as the light turned green. Then I remembered there was a McDonalds farther up the road.

My friendly neighborhood Facebook site has several lengthy conversation threads about the homeless people who frequent the freeway intersections. Many lack compassion and are in fact angry. I understand, I do. There are people who systematically work the streets as a job, driven there by a “boss” or driving there themselves. And many people think that homeless people are simply lazy or homeless by choice, or druggies who choose to be that way. As if being homeless is a preferred option, as if addiction isn’t real. They say that if you give the beggars a handout or food, that you are part of the problem, that you are a fool. Sigh. There are so many issues to consider before condemning. Mental illness and addiction being two -- being flat out of luck is another.

I would rather be a fool than heartless.

I drove to McDonalds, ordered a breakfast meal and a large cup of coffee with several creams and sugars.

When I returned and approached the man, I could see him better. His coat was adequate but his jeans were thin. His face was dirty, his eyes dark. I rolled down my window, said, “I got you a hot meal and some coffee.” His tired eyes lit up a bit, a momentary spark, as he reached for the bag my hands held out for him. He juggled his cane, sign and the bag and then took the cup of coffee. His hands were stained and shaking. I gave him ten dollars and told him to take care of himself. He thanked me. He didn’t preach to me, he didn’t ask me for a cigarette, he just stood there, holding the warm food and coffee, holding the ten dollars, and he looked at me and said, thank you.

It’s not much, what I did. But it was something. I believe we all must do at least something, where we can and when we can. Everyone has a garden inside of them. We all need nourishment, from food as well as kindness.

Two days later, two homeless men died from exposure to the frigid temperatures Houston is experiencing. I hope those two men knew kindness before they died.

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