The temperature outside has dropped from 32 degrees to 24 degrees since lunch today. I'm standing in this room, elbow to elbow with people in nice wool coats, scarves, hats, and gloves in their pockets. When I say elbow to elbow, it is literally just that. This place is packed. There is hardly room to breathe, much less, move around. It's an art show for the area high schools at the local, downtown art gallery.
The longer I stand there, the closer the crowd gets, and being one who has a propensity to flip completely out in a crowded room, my panic gauge begins to peg, and I have to find some air...soon.
I begin working my way toward the door, waiting for this person to move a couple inches, and that person to turn just a little, so that I can squeeze through the gap between them. Over and over, I repeat this stopping and waiting, inching across the room, until I'm finally through the doors and outside on the sidewalk.
Immediately, the wind blowing off of the river and down Broadway hits me in the face, and for just a second, I wonder if it wasn't better inside the crowded room, but...people...and too many of them. I stand on the sidewalk outside the gallery and watch him across the street, on the opposite corner.
Inside that building, on that corner, were more nice wool coats, hats, gloves, and scarves; only they weren't crowded into a gallery, "oohing" and "aahing" over high school art students' latest works. They were seated around small tables with steaks or glasses of wine.
I watch him from across the street. Obviously, he didn't have a nice wool coat, or he would have had it on. The wind was picking up speed as it made its way down the river and across the parking lot. I turned for just a second, looked back, and he was gone. I don't know where he went, but he wasn't standing on the corner, opposite me anymore. No doubt, if he wasn't completely homeless, he at least did without the extras in life. All it took was a peek at what he was wearing to be able to tell that.
I don't know why, but something inside me said, "Hey, let's try a little experiment. Just looking at what's around you, and without being able to get inside a building, see if you can find a warm spot out of the wind."
I guess I probably looked crazy, and actually I'm a little surprised that no one called the police. While everyone else was still inside the gallery looking at art, and the others were sitting around little tables, sipping wine, I was creeping around corners...in and out of doorways...and going into alleys. The funny thing, and not so funny at the same time, was that no matter where I went or which corner I turned, I could not get out of the wind.
One would think that, eventually, some part of some building would block the wind, but I never found that spot. Realistically, I was only out there for about 15 minutes before I'd had enough, and slipped back inside...but...
...but, I wondered where he went...and others like him...
It was just supposed to be an afternoon trip to the art gallery to see a piece that my youngest had in the show. It turned into a reminder of just how good I really have it, and how so many aren't so lucky.
This past week I saw a couple of guys sitting beside a stop sign. It happens so often that, to some, it's almost cliche'. I stopped, saw a break in the traffic, and made my turn. It was getting late in the afternoon. I had to start supper, and honestly, I just wasn't in the mood. As I sat there in traffic, waiting for the light, my first thought was, "Damn. I have to go back. But I don't want to."
I pulled out of the turning lane, hit the fast food drive in for a few burgers and some hot coffee (Which cost way more than I had planned on spending), circled back around and stopped this time. I rolled down the window, handed them the sack and cups of coffee, and asked where they were headed.
Austin, Texas is roughly 700 miles from Paducah, Ky...and it's January. In Paducah, in January, it gets cold. Bone chilling cold. If you're on foot, hitching a ride, looking for a meal, or sleeping outside, Paducah, in January is probably not the ideal spot.
Now, why have I written about this? Not so that I'll get patted on the back, and I don't want anyone to comment with, "Bless you for doing that for those guys." Honestly, if my conscience had let me, I might have made my turn and gone on home. I'm writing about these two experiences, within the span of just a few days, to raise awareness of the fact that it is winter and not everyone has a place to get in out of the cold.
Try it some time. Go downtown on a cold, windy day, and try to find a corner that the wind is not whipping around.
Then, imagine if you can, that the sidewalk by that particular corner is where you're sleeping tonight.
Then, after you've don't that...all I ask is this...don't drive by the next guys sitting at a stop sign. Who knows the difference a hot meal, a cup of coffee, and a little conversation might make. Will it fix their problem or end homelessness? Good Lord, no...
but anything is better than nothing.
"Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."