Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Invisible Man

Yesterday on my way to the gym, I saw a young man - maybe a year or two older than my own son - sitting near the traffic light with a "Homeless - please help if you can" sign. He had no gloves and was literally shaking from the cold. And trust me, it was pretty cold here last night.

I only had a dollar on me, which I gave him, but I had already made up my mind I was coming back before he even thanked me. I went home, found a pair of gloves and a scarf stuffed in the closet from last winter and found a blanket we'd gotten years ago as a commemorative prize and brought them back to the traffic light. The young man was so appreciative. While we were talking, a woman drove up, handed him a bag and a $5 bill. He thanked her and told her to drive safely. As she drove away, he looked in the bag and almost cried when he saw what was in it. "I can't believe she brought me SOCKS!" he said as he slipped off his boots and put them on over the little ankle ones he had on. I can't tell you how humbling it was to watch this young man who had just told me he had no idea where he was going to be sleeping tonight get so excited over a new pair of long socks.

We talked for a few more minutes and he told me now he happened to be without roof overhead and out in the cold. His story was a simple one and could easily happen to anyone. One day he had a place to live and the next day he didn't - it really was just that simple.

I asked him what he needed and he said the most pressing things were the simple things: toothpaste, a folding toothbrush and clean boxer shorts (he wears a size 32). He used to have a tent where he would sleep when he couldn't find a shelter or other indoor place, but it had been stolen. It hurt my heart to think about how cold it might get tonight and how he might have to endure it with nothing but the little blanket he'd just been given.

Getting protein on a regular was difficult, he said, but what he misses most about not having a place to call his own was being able to take a hot shower and having a cold fridge in which to store food. "You have no idea how much I miss having a fridge," he told me.

In my head, I saw that young man's face - especially how cold it looked when I first saw him and how incredibly happy a small display of kindness from a passing stranger made it when the woman passing by handed him the socks - all night. The reality is that no matter his circumstances, he is someone's son and used to be someone's neighbor, classmate and friend. There's something incredibly tragic about that, I think.

If my own son or any of my neighbors, classmates or friends ever needs a helping hand from a stranger, I hope they get it, I really do.

You don't have to have a lot to be nice to someone. Kindness costs nothing but time. Spend some today.

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