On this chilly December eve, I am wrapped in warm, dry clothes. I sit in my toasty home and listen to the rain sing to an insulated, watertight roof. The chamomile tea hit the spot and my belly is happy from a delicious chicken, rice and veggie dinner. I may read a bit on my new Kindle; right before switching the lights down for sleep. Look forward to that nice soft bed tonight. The prospect of eight sleep-filled hours, with dreams of next summer’s vacation…ahhh!
Just a few miles away there is another man. I don’t see him, nor do I know his name—but tonight I feel his presence. He huddles, cold and shivering, under ragged blankets outside a downtown storefront. He is especially hungry this night. Day off for the soup kitchen, and lots of competition at the restaurant dumpsters. Like me, he’s an avid reader, but the dim flickers of light don’t quite make it to the recessed doorway he has claimed. He doesn’t own a book anyway, just a few crumpled brochures and yesterday’s newspaper classifieds stuffed in his backpack.
Daily, I pass by friends, co-workers and even strangers. Most seem to have a twinkle in their eye and are quick with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” Cornucopias of handshakes, hugs and stolen kisses are ever plentiful. Puts a big grin on my face as I drive my new truck toward that warm and comfy place I call home. Can’t wait to see my kids, ask about their day and then prepare another delicious piping hot dinner.
Meanwhile that other man hugs his children too. He has hiked several miles across town to the homeless shelter, where they are about to be herded in for the night. He cannot sleep there, due to overcrowding and the policy of children and mothers first. He grins too, just like I did with my children. He is grateful that they have eaten a meal and will have a roof over their head this cold and rainy night.
He watches them amble in with the rest of the families. His 12-year-old daughter turns around, as he knew she would. Clutching tight to a Justin Bieber pillowcase, she waves with her free hand. On cue, he spins around and does a Barney the Dinosaur dance for her. Just like he used to…at home. “Dad, you are such a dork!” she says, as she rolls her eyes.
Through the shroud of rain he sees past the routine embarrassment he causes, as her eyes see a man she loves unconditionally. The wide green pupils sparkle up the night and she again waves…only with her pinkie finger. For that is the goodnight signal they have shared since she was a baby.
Back at my house, we have finished dinner and the kids are in their pajamas. I remind them to do their homework and then throw in a hot chocolate bribe for later. With marshmallows. With no ado, I settle in to my nice comfy sofa. Tonight is a good one to snuggle with a blanket and maybe write on my new Macbook. Chamomile tea sounds good yet again. Think I’ll flip on the Ipod. Love the sound it makes on the custom Bose speakers. Yes, life is good.
Out on the street, the other man watches as the door to the shelter is locked and then bolted. He stands for a moment and smiles yet again. Imagines his daughter now—debating Mom on which side of the bed to sleep. He lowers his head and closes his eyes. Feeling the shudder of tears, his shoulders hunch up.
The rain pours on. His hair and clothes are soaked heavy with icy water. He keeps walking, for he knows a good spot. Another half mile up the road sits an abandoned lumberyard, which the recession gifted with an agonizing death. But there are empty sheds and they are dry.
On he walks…and…so goes another night this Christmas season…