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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A New Year's Story (Somewhere, Charles Dickens Is Smiling)

Last Thursday, after grocery shopping with a lighter heart since Things Are Back To Normal, I was steering my Prius back home, barely grimacing at That Horrid Taco's Sign. It was so cold, but at least it was sunny, and I had a car full of groceries, good news from the doctor the day before, and dinner already planned in my head. It was such a Good Day!

I almost didn't see the man standing on the street corner at the busy three-way stop. He was muffled in a scarf and hat, and he was wearing a brown canvas coat that didn't look very warm. As I came up to the intersection, he turned around, and I saw he was holding a sign:
 PLEASE HELP
 HOMELESS AND HUNGRY.

The snow around the sidewalks where he was standing was piled up about fourteen inches, and in the extreme cold, had turned to ice. There were deep frozen ruts about a foot into the street, making his chosen spot a precarious one. It was also not a very smart one. Traffic coming from one direction had no stop at all, and in order for him to reach any car that did manage to stop and block this very busy intersection, he had to navigate terrible terrain. Had he merely moved to a small parking lot across from the Taco's sign fifty feet away, he'd have had a much easier time of it.

Traffic nudged me, and I had to move along. But instead of turning left at the light a block ahead, I turned right, circled back, and came around again. I was lucky--traffic had slowed, and I could stay in my lane to call him over. He was jumping up and down a bit in his tennis shoes, trying to get warm. I honked my horn a little over the noise of a loud truck idling nearby to get his attention. He turned around, and I leaned over in the seat toward my open passenger's side window.

He carefully stepped toward my car, picking his path through the icy mounds and slippery ruts. I wasn't sure if I should look at him: would it embarrass him? I glanced at him briefly and glimpsed some of the tiredest eyes I think I have ever seen. I could see that he was young, and I felt a surge of pity. "Here," I said, as I offered him a ten, "I--"

"Oh, thank you! Thank you, ma'am, and God Bless! God Bless you, ma'am!" His blue eyes glistened and he had a West Virginian accent. His cheeks were red and patched with cold, white places.

I became almost overwhelmed with...what? Embarrassment? Shame? "I hope things turn around for you soon," I said. I checked my mirrors and drove on into traffic, headed home, thinking about my December worries and how they stacked up--or, more accurately, didn't--to this man's.

To many, many people's.

When the Universe strives so mightily to Teach Me A Lesson, it is important that I not miss the opportunity to Learn It. This young man on the corner was sort of my New Year's Jacob Marley, but I won't need to be introduced to the rest of the cast.

Message Received.

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24 comments:

  1. Agreed. Message received. It has been even worse for them here when it was down to -30C (-10 F or thereabouts.) and now we are expecting freezing rain. I tend to think "There but for the grace od God go I" but if I am on foot we proceed to the nearest food service location and he goes in and I buy him food. Some of the stories are heartbreakers. If in the car, I do what you did.
    You are a fine person!

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    1. Mary--Oh, thank you. Apparently not too fine, or I would not have needed such a big nudge to get me back on track.

      But I'm always on a Path Of Continuous Self Improvement, so I'll take it.

      Freezing rain, then a high of 50F today; 57F tomorrow!; then expecting at least a foot of snow on Saturday. I am trying not to think about it all because...why?

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    2. I hate to tell younthis, but ... I am in San Diego this week under blue skys and enjoying an outdoor pool. While in Ottawa JG is walking the YD's dog in - 20 C temperatures. Faintly guilty conscience, but only faint. First holiday since my illness. Iw will have to give double donations when I get home, not least to J G.

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    3. Mary--Oh, enjoy enjoy ENJOY! I understand your guilt, but do shrug it off if you can. It's not like you are relocating for the rest of the winter (IF ONLY!), and it will do you so much Good.

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  2. A great way for you to start off a new year.

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    1. Jean--It was significant.

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  3. My sister and her kids were moved by a man in the cold next to their freeway off ramp, and she went home, found a warm coat that her husband didn't wear anymore, washed it, wrapped it in tissue (not the Kleenex kind, the kind they wrap your clothes in at the store), put it in a big shopping bag along with a couple of bottles of water, and kept it in her car until they saw him again. I'm glad the kids were with her when she saw him again and gave it to him. The thoughtfulness of washing it and wrapping it really got me.

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    1. J@jj.com--I think that was thoughtful and gracious, too. It made it like a gift. I'm glad they were able to find him again.

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  4. It's pretty difficult to go out in public these days, isn't it? A few days ago, I walked in very cold weather to a nearby 7/11 and noticed the 2 clerks were being blasted with cold wind every time the door opened. I live very near, so I went home, cut up a remnant of grey wool flannel to make a small-ish neckscarf and went back to give it to the older and sadder looking clerk. I also was worried that I would somehow embarrass him with that small gift, but he wrapped it immediately around his neck, and the other clerk and I joked about what a manly scarf that was. He wasn't embarrassed--he smiled and gave me a hug (which I kind of needed, too).

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    1. Kate--How lovely of you! These small, heartfelt kindnesses are so important. I think that, sometimes, people become almost fixtures. In our fast-paced and stressful lives, we can easily forget that others are living their own lives, too, and deserve some humanity and compassion or, at the very least, recognition.

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  5. Perfect!

    I'm just curious - what is a West Virginia accent? (I'm from there and want to know ...)

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    1. Bridget--(If you hail from WV, then you surely know! Here in OH, we have a lot of people from WV. After taking a ton of linguistics classes/dialectical survey work in college, their slight southern (and for some, not-so-slight) twang is easy for me to spot. For fun, you can Google "West Virginia Accent Tags" and listen to/watch some of the videos.)

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  6. Great story! Great way to start the year!

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    1. Vera--It was memorable.

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  7. Well done by you, the poor fellow I hope he gets the help he needs and finds a shelter to help him. Bless your heart.

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    1. Meredith--Thank you. I hope he does, too. Resources are getting stretched thin these days, as you know.

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  8. I needed this lesson too. I've been so extra stressed (mostly about our health insurance premiums skyrocketing with this job change). I'm going home tonight & make another hat for our homeless program at church!

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    1. Bug--So many individual things to get stressed about, I know. And it's not that we don't have the right to feel anxious or nervous when Bad Things happen to us; we certainly do. It's important to look at them in the larger scope of things from time to time.

      You are a marvel with your crochet. I'm glad that you're able to help others with your skill.

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  9. Bless you for turning around and making the effort! I feel so sorry for the homeless when the weather is unbearably cold. I remember when I lived in Madrid and when the temperature dropped down to freezing or near freezing, they kept the metro station entrances open all night so that at least they were not in direct contact with the 'elements' if it was snowing, etc.

    It’s so depressing to think that there are so many homeless and even folks with humble abodes who go hungry every day in what is supposed to be the 'richest country in the world.' I 'googled' this and found a 2016 survey that estimated there are over half a million homeless folks in the country. I was astounded a couple of years ago when Mr. O. and I went to the main downtown library in Dallas and saw that at least half of the people in the library were homeless folks, with plastic shopping bags and backpacks with their few belongings, sitting at computers in the library just to be in a warm place during the day and to have something to do. Geez! And you are so right: a simple act of kindness goes a long way. I often see stories of people who see the same homeless person on the side of the road every day, and stop to ask what they can do, and then find themselves getting involved and turning a person's life around. We can't all do that, of course, but every little bit helps.

    Have you seen the movie Same Kind of Different as Me? Definitely a 'feel good' movie based on the true story of a Ft. Worth woman who worked with the homeless. Worth seeing if you can get it on Netflix or similar.

    I have often thought that if I won pots of money in the lottery one day (I rarely buy a ticket, though!), that I would set up an organization to help and rehabilitate homeless folks and try to get them a job and a decent place to live.

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    1. Ortizzle--Sigh. I don't play the lottery either. But I just know that I deserve to win. ;-)

      The media is at least trying hard to stop the urban (and often, republican) myth out there that homelessness has to do primarily with laziness. It's simply not true. The Plain Dealer recently ran a series in which it profiled several families who were trying hard to lift themselves out of poverty/homelessness. The obstacles are everywhere, and they are almost insurmountable. Child care is an enormous one--children are a massive expense. That's just a fact.

      And here in Great Lakes Texas, we force women to carry all children to term, but limit or eliminate resources to care for them via the state's budget. Still, one of the first things you hear from Some People is, "Why do they keep having so many kids, then?" Sigh. It's incredible.

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  10. Lovely story. I'm glad that you helped the man, both financially and by acknowledging that he was someone worth talking with. When I see people with signs like that it makes me wonder about how they got there, and how it is that I didn't.

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    1. Ally Bean--And there you are! Days later. Sorry for Blogger's recalcitrance and tardiness. No idea what happened.

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  11. **This from Ally Bean, whose comment showed up in my Inbox, but got lost in Blogger's terrible Publish Delay (what IS UP with this place lately?!):

    Lovely story. I'm glad that you helped the man, both financially and by acknowledging that he was someone worth talking with. When I see people with signs like that it makes me wonder about how they got there, and how it is that I didn't.

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    1. Ally Bean--I'm glad I helped in a small way, too. As I noted to Ortizzle, above, the paths to hunger and homelessness are not so simple (a fact I'm sure you know, too).

      And Kindness and Compassion are more important now than ever before since Cruelty and Indifference are being codified as the New American Way.

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