There is no such thing as a typical day at the day shelter for homeless men where I am employed. Some days are so busy with the hustle and bustle of the shelter that the day feels like it ends as almost as soon as it starts, and other days are spent methodically laboring over paperwork and reports. Throughout the course of a day, the staff, volunteers, and the guests celebrate successes, mourn losses, cope with crises, deal with daily living skills and tasks, and every other imaginable situation. Right before lunch today, though, I was presented with a situation that even I could not imagine.
I was finishing up my shift working on the floor of the day shelter, when an older gentleman motioned to me to get my attention, and he walked over to the other side of the bannister where I stood. This particular gentleman is part of the group of men who play cards at a table near my office, but I only recently made his acquaintance. I do not know what led him to be homeless or how he came to walk through our doors, but I do know that he is worth getting to know. Each day, we exchange pleasantries, engage in conversation, and share laughs with some of the other men, so, I did not think much of his request to speak with me. However, I soon thought a great deal of the conversation that ensued and always will.
I greeted him and asked what I could do for him, and he quickly said that he did not need me to do anything for him. This gentleman lowered his voice as he explained that he didn’t need anything from me today, but that he had something for me. He motioned to the table behind him that had a wad of plastic grocery bags on it, and in a hushed tone, he said, “I know you probably are not supposed to accept gifts, but I have something little for you. It says something that I don’t want you or your boss to think is inappropriate, because I mean it in a good way and hope you understand. It’s just something to say ‘thank you’, because you really are our angel.” I could not see what was hidden beneath the plastic bags, nor could I even imagine what the gift could be. The gentleman said that he didn’t want the other guys to see the gift, and he asked me to wait until he walked away from the table to go retrieve my gift. I did as he instructed, and the picture at the beginning of this blog post is what awaited me.
I discreetly picked it up, but I could not contain my huge grin or tearful eyes, as I looked at a gift that bore a $4.99 price tag, but that was absolutely priceless. As I read the “I Love You” sign held by the bear, I understood why he feared that the message may be misconstrued, but I knew exactly how he meant it. The love that the guys profess is not romantic in nature, rather it is genuine, unconditional love for people whom they regard as their family of sorts. To be loved by those seen as unlovable by society at large is the sweetest love of all, and it is something that I do not take for granted. When one of the men says, “I love you, Miss Kristi”, they always hear me reply, “I love you right back”, and I do.
When I headed back to my office to put this precious present in a place of honor, the gentleman approached me again and quietly said, “There’s a switch on the bottom that will make the bear light up”. When I was alone in my office, I allowed the happy tears to flow freely, as I flipped the switch to watch the bear light up both my office and my heart.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story