And then one day, something happened, an accident, no one is sure, but the wife and daughter were killed and the glass walled office cracked, his life shattered and he tumbled out onto the street.
That's the story, but no one's sure. This man who walks the street seldom talks, seldom engages with anyone at the shelter, police, outreach workers, passersby. He seldom engages. He only walks. East to north to west to south and east again. Avenue to street to avenue to street. Around and around.
I've heard he lives in a cardboard box down an alley. I've heard he has a one room hideaway. I've heard so much about him and never spoken with him.
Yesterday, our paths momentarily interestected again. I was driving east, stopped at a red light. He was walking south, crossing at the intersection. I hadn't seen him for a couple of weeks. The deterioration in his condition is evident. His left leg is dragging. He looks to be in pain. He crossed in front of me. I wondered what I could do. The light turned green. He carried on, southward bound. I carried on eastward bound.
I wrote a log on our internal database at the shelter where I work. Please watch out for him, I asked staff. We need to find a way to help.
I chatted with a police officer who works with the street population. She too is at a loss of what to do. He refuses all contact. He is not a danger to himself. He is not a danger to others, she said. Can't we get him into a hospital for assessment. Maybe he had a stroke. Maybe that's why his leg is dragging.
She too will put out a notice.
The second incident is on my way home. I am driving west, stopped at another intersection waiting for the light to turn green. On the far side of the busy downtown street I see a man walking on the sidewalk. He is younger, maybe late twenties. Long dark trenchcoat. Big backpack. Scraggly beard.
He walks to the corner, looks at the red hand cautioning him to wait. There is a garbage can beside the light pole. He glances inside. Looks away. Glances back inside. He puts a hand inside. I think he must have seen a bottle or can someone has discarded. I watch and he pulls out a Styrofoam coffee cup. Inspects its contents. He stares for a long moment.
I watch the play of emotions on his face. I cannot read his mind. I wonder, is he thinking 'how did my life get to this?'. I wonder, is he confused. Frightened. Concerned. Does he worry that is he takes that sip, it will be one step closer to that place where his worth will only be found in a garbage can on the street?
I keep watching. He doesn't put the cup back in the garbage. He turns and walks back in the direction he came, the cup in his hand. Slowly he raises it towards his mouth.
I cannot watch.
I want to cry. I want to leap from my car and yell, "Don't do it. You don't need to drink someone else's throw away. Please stop. You are worth more than this."
The light turns green and I lift my foot off the brake pedal, press down on the gas. I continue westward towards home.
The echoes of scenes from the street linger in my mind. I think of the broken lives of those who wander, who peck through garbage cans, who drink throwaways.
No matter what we do to end homelessness, there are those for whom homelessness is not the issue. Their spirits have been broken. Their direction lost.
I do not have answers for their lives. I do know that we must continue to do what we do to see the humanity, to see their worth beneath the tattered clothing, the smells and dirty finger nails. We must do what we do to speak up for those who cannot find their voice.
I am grateful this morning for my life. For the sun shining between the trees that are slowly beginning to hear the whisper of spring calling them to bud.
I am grateful for Ellie, my wonder dog, sleeping on her matt beside me. I am grateful for my cup of coffee. My daughters sleeping safely in their beds. For small moments of quiet, big moments of laughter. I am grateful for this day.