It was a day you think about after a harsh winter, when the smell of spring is intoxicating and the sun kisses your face. It’s the time when people begin to gather on corners renewing friendships with each other.
On this day, one place was bustling as patrons stood in line at a neighborhood post office. It was tax day, April 15. Everyone had a task in mind carrying packages or letters, and most, on this day, a letter to the Internal Revenue Service with the enclosed tax payment requiring it to be postmarked. Most, like myself, wait until the last minute to send payments off to the government, while others have sent in forms long ago when money was owed to them.
This post office is a busy one, situated in a friendly, multicultural community. Since language can be a barrier, others step up to assist when some have difficultly interpreting their needs to the clerk. So many languages are spoken and so many translations misunderstood. If one stood in line for any time, one would understand the importance of this gathering place.
In the course of the day and after many have come and gone, few acknowledge the panhandler sitting on the sidewalk in front. He is a small, somewhat dejected individual, who meekly reaches out his hand for money with the hope that someone will notice. Observing this, I wonder how many actually stop and offer a greeting or dig deep into their satchel to offer a gesture of kindness with loose change.
Was there a time in his life when he was part of a more exciting existence? Was he once a patron who stood in line mailing a letter to a friend or loved one? How does a journey through life, which was once part of humankind, now become one where rejection forced him to the streets enduring a life without hope? I once heard it said a person can be homesick for a better life.
As I drove into the parking lot, I saw him there, sitting on the pavement. He had approached me in the past asking for money and I often walked by with a quick hello and the words, “sorry, not today.” He retained his composure and responded with “God bless” or “Have a blessed day” while having a hope in his heart he would get lucky with the next passers-by.
This time, I responded differently. While getting out of my car, I retrieved a few dollars as well as the candy bar that was going to be my afternoon treat, and with my envelope to the IRS, I made my way inside. But before I did, I stopped and handed him the money and candy.
Because it was a beautifully warm day, unlike the brutal winter that had just passed, he was dressed for the season. He was wearing torn sneakers, a tattered shirt and threadbare pants. In accepting my gifts, he extended his hand, darker than his own skin, and apologized for needing a bath.
It’s uncomfortable witnessing the homeless on our streets, and for many people, it’s easier to pass by not truly understanding their plight, or accepting the decisions they have made. It’s about choices and understanding and how one reacts to those who have so little.
As I came out of the post office, he was still there and I wished him well. As I left, he said, “I have missed you.” He had recognized me and his words would remain close to my heart. His words tell it all.