Something calls to me
the trees are drawing me near
I’ve got to find out why
those gentle voices I hear
explain it all with a sigh.
It was Tuesday, so we headed out to Center City in the Prius, packed with warm donated clothing and thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless made with love by Linda on grainy whole wheat bread because, she said, it’s the best. High of 18 degrees, frigid wind, snow and ice still around from the last storm just a few days ago. Another nor’easter moving in tomorrow night, making it 11 storms and the fifth coldest winter in Philadelphia history. But the sun was out, we felt its rays and that was good. Heading down Delaware Avenue the wind swayed our car; it’s always colder by the river. Over there, look. The man standing in the middle lane with a sign that says ‘Please have mercy.’ Linda bolted and headed toward him, they exchanged a few words as Linda gently took his arm and collected Rick – ruggedly good-looking, appearing to be in his early thirties.
See that blue tent way back there? That’s been home for my wife Janine and myself for ten days now. We were evicted from our house by the owner who boarded it up. Told us we had to get out so we left with just the clothes on our backs. My wife’s sneakers didn’t even have laces. She raised a squirrel in the house from when it was a baby. Pretty sure it’s dead by now, 10 days with no food.
We loaded Ricks up with warm clothes and sandwiches. Would Janine like this coat Rick? How about some sweaters, these nice gloves and a hat? “Oh yes, thank you, God bless you both, she deserves nice things, I would love for her to have them.” We told Rick we would be back in a few minutes with gift cards for the coffee shop just down the road. They could sip coffee and warm up for a few hours at a time. Rick said Janine would like that. It took us about 45 minutes to return. We couldn’t seem to get close enough to the blue tent so Linda ran way up the hill to greet them, gift cards in hand. There was a man with them now, and Janine was hugging everyone. Linda returned breathless with twinkling eyes explaining Dave was there, Rick’s old boss in the pool cleaning business. Rick had persuaded Dave to go into the tree pruning business in the off-season a while back and with all of the storms, business was booming. He had come to gather up Rick and Janine, give them a place to stay, and Rick guaranteed work for at least 6 months. It was our first hour on the streets and already we were awe-struck, bearing witness to the magnificence the universe had just delivered, feeling part of it all. As we drove off, I thought of Rick and Janine and couldn’t help but smile… Friday was Valentine’s Day.
Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes it worthwhile. – Franklin P. Jones
Let’s go down Market Street, the homeless are usually riding the subway all day to keep warm. And so they were. A man was so hungry he tore into a sandwich and inhaled it before Linda could get gloves on his chafed hands. A woman in a wheelchair was cold, and asked for a blanket. “Bless you I like this one, with the colorful balls, it makes me happy” she said, as Linda covered her with it and loaded her bag with a hat, gloves, a scarf. Further down Market Street we spotted a young woman sitting on a box.
Are you hungry hon, have you had anything to eat today?
She’s too young to have rotting teeth. I watched as Linda carefully tucked the young woman in with a warm blanket, making sure there weren’t any gaps where the cold could get in. “She said she felt like I was her mother” said Linda – an orphan. We were silent, images of the day loomed large.
Watery eyes again, lost in our thoughts as we headed to our last stop, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a patch of grass across from the Free Library of Philadelphia, now a frozen time capsule. Strangely quiet and still. Belongings were neatly piled, claimed spaces clearly defined by invisable borders and honored. I spotted a book on a tarp, frozen stiff, tattered and worn:
We lifted the back of the Prius signaling we were open for business. A steady stream of homeless men came over and left wrapped up in scarves and wearing most of the remaining gloves and hats. I thought I saw them walk a little taller as then disappeared down the parkway.
They’re all over in the library, they let us stay there as long as we don’t act up.
Walter flashed a smile that could warm the coldest heart. He was the watchman, making sure no one messed with their belongings. It was all they had. “I’ll go tell them two beautiful ladies have some things for them if you watch the stuff.” The men came out and crowded around the jeans, clearly a commodity. I thought of all the pairs my son had worn maybe once or twice, then discarded for the latest style he had to have. The men held them up, swapped sizes, made jokes. Oh, I like that sweater, that’s my color. God bless you, thank you so much.
You know they don’t do this in any other city, only Philly. The Mayor tried to stop them, made it illegal. Only made the people more determined.
“So, we really are the City of Brotherly Love?” He nodded. Most definitely. A quiet man, small in stature, was standing a little off to the side. I waved him over. “My name is Thomas, and I’m from Africa, the same town as Nelson Mandela. I have lost my Pappa, Tata Madiba.” I thought of saying he will always be in your heart, but thank God I didn’t take the opportunity to insert foot-in-mouth, which often is the case. Anything I said along those lines would be shallow and insignificant. “You won’t forget me, will you? What’s my name?” Everyone just wants to be seen, their existence acknowledged, to know that they matter. I see you Thomas. I won’t forget you. Promise.
I’m looking at myself reflections of my mind
It’s just the kind of day to leave myself behind
So gently swaying through the fairyland of love
If you’ll just come with me you’ll see the beauty of
Tuesday afternoon. – Moody Blues
If you see a person on the street in need of support, please call the Homeless Outreach Hotline at 215-232-1984. If resources are limited, you may call the Hotline for no charge at 1-877-222-1984. Donations of warm clothes and coats are greatly needed and will be distributed every Tuesday as long as supplies last. If you would like to make a cash donation for coffee shop gift cards and sleeping bags with credit cards through PayPal go to https://nancybragin.com/the-enlighten-game/
A smile is a gift from God — Mother Theresa
A smile or a kind word makes all the difference to the homeless. Let them know you care. Connect to the unified consciousness field and send love out from your heart space. It only takes a few seconds. Because we are One.