And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
My daughter Olivia had to work on New Year’s Day. The night before, in the midst of New Year hoopla, we got hit with all sorts of weather – snow, ice, snow, rain, snow – and so I’d parked Hemi in the parking garage across the street. Livvy and I trudged through the slush and just before we reached the door to the bus depot/parking garage, Livvy cried, “There’s somebody laying against the door!”
There was. As I looked through the glass, I saw a young man, his head pressed firmly against the door, out cold. He was in a winter jacket and jeans, had a hat and gloves.
“He’s so young,” Olivia said.
I carefully opened the other door and as soon as I had it cracked, I could hear him snoring. As we stepped past him to the elevators, I swept him with my eyes, looking for steady respiration, nothing blocking his mouth, any signs of injury. He passed. He was simply sound asleep.
I had to get Olivia to work. But all the way, she talked about the young man, about if he was homeless, how could he be homeless so young, what could we do, what could she do. I dropped her off at the grocery store and then headed back. I decided to check on the young man in about an hour. And then at home, and at work, I promptly forgot.
Five hours later, I brought Olivia home. As we drove past the parking garage, I slowed the car and we both looked. We could see at least two people behind the glass doors, sitting on the floor. There were no buses on this holiday, so the warm lobby was closed. There was only this little glass enclosure that housed the elevators, so people could get to their cars up above.
Olivia looked at me, her mouth drawing down. I drove around the corner to home.
Inside, I told Michael about it. Olivia sat down to dinner, her face somber.
So…I pulled out a grocery bag and loaded it with some Lunchables, some apples, some tangerines, some bottles of water. And then Michael and I set out to the parking garage, leaving behind a brighter Olivia, eating her supper.
When we opened the glass doors, there were three people…and none of them were the young man. There were two men and a woman. They looked at us warily. “Hi,” I said. “Are you hungry?”
The sigh they released could have shook leaves from summer trees.
Each of them grabbed my hand and Michael’s as we handed out the food and water. Twice, the woman held on to me. “I’m Kelly,” she said. And then she told me her name a second time. It seemed so important to her to be called by name, to be someone, to be herself. “Hi, Kelly,” I said twice, and then a third time. “I’m Kathie.”
We reminded them of the location of the Salvation Army shelter, a short walk away, and the women’s shelters. When we returned to our home, I wished hard that I could do more.
So why is this a moment of happiness?
Because in the middle of a government brawl over putting up a ridiculous wall on our country’s southern border, despite the fact that the plaque next to the Statue of Liberty reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
…despite the fact that we are keeping children, children, locked up in “camps” that make animal shelters look like the most luxurious hotel, despite the fact that some of these children have died, despite the fact that we live here and I am raising my child here…
My child still looked at a young man, sound asleep in the only warm place he could find, and she looked at him without judgement. She wanted to help.
She wanted to do what was right. I quickly forgot the young man for the better part of the afternoon. But Olivia didn’t forget and she reminded me of what is right and while I didn’t get to help the young man, I helped three others.
And it’s my moment of happiness because besides bringing three people a meal, I was able to hold a scared woman’s hand and call her by name and give her, for just a moment, her personhood back.
This is the second time we’ve done this this winter. On our way back home, Michael quietly said, “I’ll start picking up a few more things when I do the grocery shopping.”
We’ll be doing it again. I’m happy to do it. I wish I didn’t have to.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.