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Takeaway Story #3 ~ Would You Like A Blanket?
Ok, here goes…
Once upon a time (which was actually sometime last year) I went down to Freimann Square to eat my yogurt and read a book on my lunch hour. It was sometime in the fall – right around the time of year when it starts to get fairly cold, but you don’t really believe that it’s cold until you stand out in it for awhile – maybe mid-November-ish. So I was sitting on a bench in the park eating my yogurt and I was getting pretty cold. I hadn’t brought a coat because, as I’ve mentioned, I didn’t really believe it was going to be cold. But it was. I sat there and tried to focus on my book, but it’s hard to focus on much when you’re cold. Also, my body kept engaging in this random stop-start-stop-start shivering like some sort of wacked out whole body Tourettes or something.
Anyhow, as I sat there with my book and my yogurt I noticed a man sleeping on the park bench next to me. Being the brilliant person I am, it occurred to me that there was a good chance he was cold as well. True, he was a little better equipped than me – he had a coat, at least, which was draped over his body - , but still, it was mid-day and I didn’t anticipate it getting any warmer after sundown. If anything, I figured it would get colder. Now I’m not an expert on homelessness, but it did not appear to me that this man was sleeping on the park bench because it looked like a good nap spot. It looked like he could be there all night. I thought to myself that if he was there all night he was going to get mighty chilly before morning.
You know how sometimes a thought gets in your head and you don’t know how it got there? And you know how sometimes when that thought gets lodged in there, you can’t do anything about it? You simply have to do whatever the thought is telling you. You just have to. There’s no explaining it, but you are powerless not to. Well, this thought entered my head that I should give this man the blanket in my trunk. And once the thought took hold, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. It got lodged, and I just had to get that blanket. Problem was, when I went to the trunk, there was no blanket. I don’t know where the blanket was, but it was definitely not in my trunk. It was also not in the back seat of the car, the front seat of the car, underneath a stack of books, or under the seat. The ever-elusive blanket was nowhere to be found. There was nothing I could do.
I went back to the park bench and finished my yogurt. I moped. I had random shiver-fits. I felt sad about the man sleeping alone and cold on the bench next to me. I moped more. Then a new thought got into my head from seemingly nowhere and took over where the last one left off. This new thought told me that I had to – had to – come back to the park that night and give away all my extra blankets. “Okay,” I told the random thought, which may or may not have actually been God. Then I stopped moping, gathered myself up, and went back to work.
When my husband (who will from this point be known as ‘D’) got home from work I asked him if he’d like to go give away our blankets to homeless people tonight. I even said please to further entice him. He gave me that look he has – the what the hell did I get myself into when I married this crazy chick anyhow look – the same one he gave me when I took him to the SPCA to get Dingo, in fact, if you happen to know that story – and said, “But what if they rob and kill you?”
I gave him my look – the why does everyone expect me to be so fucking balanced?! look, and said, “Well, then I guess I’ll be broke and dead.”
He was not amused.
After much bartering which included promises about the whereabouts of my purse, the length of time I would be out, and the wearing of durable running shoes, D agreed to prowl the park with me. We gathered up the blankets together, making compromises on what to keep and what to give away. We left the house with three pretty heavy duty blankets. Not those fleece throws or anything, but good, heavy, comforter-type blankets. I have no idea why we had this magnitude of spare blankets, but it’s what we found, so we headed out.
First we went back to the park. There was not another living soul in that park. I don’t think there was even a squirrel there, it was so quiet. I started to question the random thought that had brought me there. However, D was encouraging and suggested that we head over to Headwaters Park. Surely there would be someone at Headwaters Park who needed a blanket, he assured me. After all, the park is like a mile long with all kinds of dark corners people might want to sleep in.
We roamed the park for the next half hour or so, but the only people we found were two teenagers on rollerblades. Wearing coats. We couldn’t do anything for them. Feeling discouraged and somewhat pissed off at the random thought for dragging me out here all night without supplying me any blanketless homeless people, I wanted to go home. But D said he thought he saw some people over at the bus station and that it was surely too late to still be waiting for a bus. I considered this. He was referring to the city busses, so it certainly was too late for them to be running. We decided to walk by the bus station on the way back to the car. Turns out, there were people sleeping there. There were three of them – just the number of blankets we had. However, we’d left one blanket back in the car because it was hard for us to carry all three of them all the way around the park. One man at the bus station had a blanket, so we decided to give the other two blankets to the two guys who didn’t have anything. It was all nice and good and we gave the blankets away and headed for the car.
When we got to the car we had huge internal debates over whether to head back with our remaining blanket and give it to the man who already had a blanket. He might not need the blanket at all. He might really need it. For all we knew, his blanket had holes or was worn thin. What to do? We decided to head back to the bus stop. When we got there, there was a new man sitting alone, looking very lonely and very, very homeless. I approached him instead of Mr.-I-already-have-a-blanket with blanket #3. This is what ensued:
I asked the man if he wanted a blanket. He nodded yes. I held the blanket out to him. He didn’t move at all. He just looked up at me and stared. I started unfolding the blanket, figuring that maybe I could put it on him. He just sat there and stared. I got the blanket all the way unfolded and reached down to put the blanket around him. I got him all covered up in it and looked back at him. He was still staring. His eyes were the saddest eyes I’d ever seen. I reached to him and I hugged him and told him to take care and hopefully have a better day tomorrow. When I looked at his eyes again, he was crying.
This man never said a word to me. Not one word. He never moved except to nod that he wanted the blanket. That was it. But there was something in him that told me he hurt – that told me he needed that hug – it was something in his sad eyes.
I left the bus station with D and thought about the man for a long time. I thought about the way human contact is so precious – about the way the man had cried when I hugged him. I thought about the way I felt so connected to life – about how kindness is so powerful. When I went to the bus station that night, I gave a man a blanket. A stupid blanket. I didn’t change his life – I didn’t give him a place to sleep or a house to call home or a family to love or food to eat. I gave him a stupid blanket. But I cling to the hope that I maybe gave him a little something more – maybe hope that things can be better – maybe just a glimmer of faith in humanity – maybe just a little spark in his tired heart that was reminded what it was like to be loved for a moment. And when I left the bus station that night, I had gained something, too. I learned right then that I just need to listen to the random thoughts in my head more often – that I shouldn’t let fear rule me so much and that when I feel led to love somebody in some way to just do it, already! It was a practice in obedience, showering me with grace. And when I left the bus station I marveled at the beauty of human touch and the power it has to draw us out of ourselves and into another.
This story is about a night when I learned a little bit more about what its like to be alive and human and in a constant state of growth. This is my takeaway.