A little over three years ago, I left my job at a local day shelter for men who are homeless for another position. That was the first time I left a job, not because I did not like it, because the reality was that I truly loved it. As a divorced mom, though, I left for a position that offered me more financial and professional opportunities, in order to better provide for my family. It was the right thing to do, but it was one of the toughest things to do.
Even though I have returned to the day shelter as a volunteer, I still miss the daily interaction with my amazing colleagues and the men, whom I refer to as the finest gentlemen in all of Louisville. Make no mistake, though, I have not forgotten them and the many lessons I learned from them. I am only a few miles from the day shelter, but it feels worlds away. Today, though, those worlds collided.
When I transferred to a new division within my company less than a year ago, I transitioned from working solely at home to working both at home and downtown. I decided to continue my habit of taking walks during my breaks and at lunch whenever possible. As I explored downtown, I would see various spaces tucked away among the buildings and green spaces and think that they would make a good place for one of the men to hide from the rest of the world. When I approached one of these spots this afternoon, I discovered that I was not the only one who thought so.
As I neared a bench that overlooks the Ohio River, I saw a man sitting there by himself. He was wearing a baseball cap that shaded his face a bit, and he wore a slightly dirty t-shirt and pants and well-worn shoes. His hair was longer and grayer than the last time I saw him, but there was no mistaking who he was. There sitting before me was one of the finest gentlemen in all of Louisville!
As I got closer to him, he looked up at me and scanned my face, and upon recognition, he grinned and greeted me warmly. When he stood up, he moved to hug me, but hesitated a bit, before I reassured him that it was okay. After a brief hug, we began catching up with one another. He immediately asked about my daughters and me and wanted to make sure that we were doing well before he would answer any of my questions about himself. It never fails to humble me when one of the gentlemen shows concern for, and an interest in, our well-being. They have so much to contend with each day on the streets, yet they still have the capacity to care about others.
One of the more light-hearted moments during our conversation occurred when he inspected my ring finger. When he saw that it still is bare, he exclaimed, Oh good! You haven’t found anyone yet and neither have I, so, when I get my houseboat, I can ask you to sail to Florida with me. It was the best offer that I have had in a while, even if he doesn’t have a boat or know how to sail one to Florida or anywhere else. It’s the thought that counts, right?
While we talked, I noticed the furtive glances of some people passing by us. I alternated between feeling annoyed that they felt the need to look and feeling sorry for them that they were missing out on the chance to get to know this gentleman.
As we wrapped up our chat, his smile faded, as he motioned to the bench behind him and remarked, I sleep here some nights. During the day, I like to sit here and watch the river. It’s quiet. There was something about the faraway look that clouded his eyes and the wistful tone in his voice that touched my heart. I was going to walk back to my office, before heading back to my home a few hours later. He was going to be left sitting on a bench alone.
When I returned to my office, a wave of sadness hit me, and without warning, tears welled up in my eyes. I kept thinking about this gentleman and all of the other gentlemen at the day shelter who do not have a place to call home yet. Some never will. That is mind-boggling and heartbreaking.
Those people whom we pass by as if they are invisible or look at as if they are a piece of litter on the street are not those people. They are people. Our people. They deserve better, so, we must do better. We simply must.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story