Living in our neighborhood and being a stay-at-home mom, I often have the privilege of seeing our local transients on their way to and from, often to the park. I observe their behaviors, their routines, their tendancies. Sometimes, I even have the joy of sharing a conversation with them.
Bruce- in the warmer months he lives under an evergreen tree at the park. It's one that is overgrown, thanks to the city, and the long boughs keep him sheltered from the wind and rain. In the winter, he usually finds a shelter to stay in. We've talked to Bruce off and on over the last 4 years. He jokingly says he's employed by Waste Management, meaning he goes through people's trash looking for cans to recycle or food to eat. Bruce began drinking when he was a young boy. His mom provided the alcohol. Bruce still has dreams. He has a family that wants to have a relationship with him, but he doesn't want to shame them, so he stays away. Unfortunately, the local Dairy Mart right across from the park recently got their alcohol license, so now he doesn't have to walk so far to get his mind-numbing poison.
Bruce's friend- I don't remember his name, but he and Bruce are often found together. They protect each other, give each other someone to talk to, and share the few possesions they have, one of which is a radio where I can regularly count on them listening to NPR or talk-radio and catching up on current events. I ran into them outside of Albertsons a few weeks ago. Being as it's winter, I haven't recently seen them at the park. I was getting out of my warm car to stop and pick up a DVD from the Red Box so James and I could have an entertaining evening. He was coming out of the store, and a flicker of recognition crossed his eyes as he saw me. I greeted him, and he asked if I had .34 cents. I asked what for, and he said for a beer. I told him no, but if he wanted food I'd buy him something. He said, "no thanks, we have food stamps, but they don't pay for beer". He didn't try to lie or scam me into getting what he wanted. He kindly said thanks anyway and walked away.
Backpack Girl- I don't know her name, and have actually never talked to her. But I see her walk by my house several times a week, presumably on her way to the community center, the bus stop, or the Native American Community Center nearby. She walks with purpose, but has the stance of someone with the weight of the world on her. Rarely do I see a smile or even see her face looking up. This morning though, as she was walking by, she stopped and started running the other direction toward my house. I got up to see what she was doing. My elderly neighbor two doors down was walking her dog, and had tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. Somehow Backpack Girl saw this, though her head was down, and ran to help Miss Bernice. I hate to admit that my neighborly hackles went up as I saw a stranger running toward my elderly neighbor, but what I saw was an arm to help, a pat on the back, a kind word, and a smile. A touch of human kindness, and an act of human decency from someone most blow off as discardable.
(to be continued . . .)