Well, here we are, the first Friday after Halloween. With that, we’ll be making a move away from the fear theme, and heading into a more Thanksgiving theme. Expect some wholesomeness over the next few weeks.
I had been watching him outside the office window for hours now. He was there when I passed by before seven a.m, in the enclave formed by a doorway across the street. I had hardly noticed him then in my rush to get to work. All he had been was a shivering bundle under a mound of patchwork cloth.
My desk sat pressed against the second-floor window putting him right in my peripheral. Even then I didn’t notice him as I clicked away on my noisy keyboard. It was only when daylight began to filter down the street, that the first movements from the mound came to catch my eye.
I watched his head and arms pop out from under the blankets as he did a stretch in the morning light. His legs stayed trapped under the blanket avoiding the cold as he shook his head awake. From somewhere under the blanket he pulled out a small tin cup and a folded sign as he set both out in front of him.
My attention returned to my work as his movement died down, I had always been easily distracted. As the hours began to pass and the streets became more alive rather than notice the movements of the passing strangers there was something else I began to notice.
Every one of the strangers would turn the corner walking at a reasonable pace, but as they neared the sign would make sure to look straight ahead and speed up a little. Almost no one would stop, bend down, and drop some change into the little tin cup. Everyone seemed to act as if this little enclave from the cold wind simply didn’t exist.
The few who would stop to spare a few kind words were few and far between. Maybe one every hour or so would stop, come close, and spend a few minutes talking to the presence in the enclave. Whenever they did I would see the brightest smile come across the man’s face, an instant glint of excitement in the eye. I noticed not everyone that stopped would put something in the cup, sometimes they’d simply share a conversation.
This didn’t seem to deter the man from giving a friendly smile and a sharing a warming laugh with them. In fact, he seemed to relish it more than the donations themselves. I also noticed when those kind souls did stop and acknowledge him they’d walk away with a smile on their face as well.
As the street died down from the morning rush this man pulled a small loaf out from under his blanket, presumably where he had been keeping it warm, and began to munch on the bread. I watched as he ate with slow and deliberately small bites. His jaw worked up and down on the nibbles he took, seeking fulfillment in every bite.
I recognized that same look of fulfillment as the one that stared back at me in the mirror. Realized it was the same sense I felt as I chatted with my friends, or accomplished a goal. It was then that I felt myself being transported into his shoes. What would it be like to be so worn down by the world? To have passersby unwilling to acknowledge your existence, to gain so much from a simple act of humanity like a conversation.
It was then that I felt the wave of guilt pass over me. How often had I been the one to look straight ahead, and pretend as if this person didn’t exist at all? It had become so common to me that this morning I hadn’t even recognized the bundle of cloth as a person. Instead, viewing it as just another obstacle along the edges of the road.
Without ever knowing the person, or learning of the path that brought them there, I had begun to filter them all into the same category. As things to be unregistered, ignored, and to pretend like they didn’t exist.
Sitting at my office, I couldn’t take it anymore. I packed up my things early, positive I could get everything done tomorrow. Making my way rapidly across the street I sat down by the man and began to learn his story. I assured him as long as he stayed in this enclave I would make it my purpose to come and sit with him every day. We smiled, we laughed, we learned. And in the end, all it took was a few minutes of my day and a few dollars from my wallet to make myself, and another, feel more human.
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