Tuesday, March 25, 2008

bread and roses

I saw him through the big sliding doors even before I stepped inside. I don't know if the other shoppers could see it, his very full backpack or the fact that it's not quite as warm as his layers of clothes might suggest. I see him head down an aisle and I turn down another. We cross paths in the bakery section and I take a longer look while pretending to eyeball the bagels. I see the dirt under his nails, the fraying at the hem of his jeans. He's perusing the loaves of wheat bread and has a container of soy milk in his hand. It strikes me then and however unfairly that I wouldn't assume healthy eating habits would be a priority and yet why not, why the hell not.

Up close his backpack is pretty dirty and I see a familiar card poking out of the side, I confirm what I know, he's spent some time at our place and yet his face is unfamiliar. He looks at me and I smile. Hey, we both exchange and the briefest of smiles flit across his face before he looks away. He reaches for a loaf and walks away, milk in one hand and bread in the other. I stand and watch him go because in these moments I want to engage a bit deeper, for however little it matters I want to let him know he is not invisible to me, that my heart goes out to the unfairness of not having a home and having to carry his world on his back. And yet words sometimes or often fail me, and I'm left alone with the bread and the bagels and the softness of Hey.

31 comments:

Mrs. Chicken said...

This world is a dreadful place. But you, friend, are a bright spot of compassion in the darkness.

flutter said...

Why the hell not, indeed.

Oh the connections you make, my friend.

Hetha said...

I heard a snippet of an interview today on npr with a man who had been homeless in Santa Monica for 10 years. I learned a lot in that snippet and was filled with a longing to discuss it with you. The work you do is among the most noble in our society jen.

meno said...

He did see that he was not invisible to you. That brief smile was a connection.

Bob said...

I agree with meno - that smile was contact.

it is difficult to know what to say at times like that - for me anyway.

Omaha Mama said...

That hey may have been just enough for now.

You have such a good heart.

Kyla said...

Sometimes a soft, knowing hey is all someone needs.

Redneck Mommy said...

Sometimes the brief meeting of another's kind eyes is all that it takes to help someone get through the next day.

I know it has helped me, more than once.

hele said...

I agree that the hey probably made his day, made him feel less invisible.

Family Adventure said...

"It strikes me then and however unfairly that I wouldn't assume healthy eating habits would be a priority and yet why not, why the hell not."

Why the hell not, indeed. Because the rest of the world assumes his life isn't worth living? I feel so guilty right now. Thanks, Jen, for giving me yet another shake-up.

Heidi

Joker The Lurcher said...

a little word, but coming from a big heart

cce said...

You do so much more than most even if it often feels inadequate. Don't under estimate the power of a smile to change someone's day.

Blog Antagonist said...

I wonder how many people even deign to say "Hey" to him. You made an impact with that word and your smile. I gaurantee it.

Christine said...

"the softness of hey"

oof. girl you touched this man--you have that power even if you don't realize it.

Running on empty

Gina said...

Sometimes a smile or a hey is the best thing you can do for someone. I've found that the people that my son and I speak to on the streets seem to appreciate the few minutes of conversation far more than any money or food we give them.

marymurtz said...

The frayed jeans got me--I thought of my brother again and am wracked with sobs. God bless you for being a light in the darkness for people everyone ignores.

Oh, The Joys said...

It's hard to always be the one with your eyes open. I love that yours are...

Kelley said...

"Hey" is just a one-word sentence to us... It's so little... But sometimes it's also recognition and validation and hope.

Rock on.

mamatulip said...

The next time he sees you, he'll remember that smile.

Beck said...

You know, I like to think about all of the people who read your writing and have their hearts changed even a little bit towards the homeless. (like mine.)

Beck said...

You know, I like to think about all of the people who read your writing and have their hearts changed even a little bit towards the homeless. (like mine.)

QT said...

I'm sure he knows he is not invisible to you. And remember - you see so many faces, it makes it hard to distinguish them. I am sure he remembers yours, friend. I am positive.

Amy Y said...

I'm sure even your simple "hey" and the memory of the time he spent at your place... made a world of difference to him.

Janet said...

Sometimes 'hey' is all any of us give; but you know you give so much more, right?

KC said...

That soft hey. It means so much.

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

You killed me with that last line, babe.

Little Monkies said...

When I worked for a domestic violence shelter years ago, I would sometimes encounter clients in the grocery store. Sometimes with the bastard that had sent them bloody and broken to our care, sometimes with their children asking "where's dada, mama?". Those fleeting moments of recognition and sisterhood and support were important. Sometimes I think that homeless folks feel invisible...your recognition in that moment told him otherwise.

Ally said...

I agree with Little Monkies. And sometimes "hey," with sincerity and eye contact, is enough.

Tis I. said...

Maybe he is lactose intolerant. I often wonder how these men, women and children with special dietary needs fare.

I always feel bad for looking; I'm afraid they think I'm judging. So, I try to meet their eyes. And then feel badly, because they might mistake my sadness for pity.

crazymumma said...

I have always liked Hey. It is an embrace of a greeting. Meaning much and expecting little.

Arwen said...

Were you surprised by the food choices because you can buy more unhealthy food (so his stomach would stay fuller longer) since it is cheaper?
How many of us faithful readers wouldn't even make eye contact? Your hey is not only a connection but it is brave.