The Cold

Lowell approached me today with a notepad.  We’d both been up since 4:30, because the shelter woke them all up at that hour and kicked them back out into the cold and my alarm in my warm soft bed signaling my departure to meet them.  The parking lot we met in was blustery.  It was 20 degrees, but his spirit was warm.

“Read it and tell me what you think,” he said. “Give me your honest opinion.”

I read his notebook entry and smiled.  “It’s great!” I said.  “Can I take it and publish it?”

Lowell smiled.  I told him I’d submit it this week with my article, to the newspaper I write a column for about the homeless. The title of his short essay was “Don’t wake me I’ll come up swinging.”

It was a wonderful essay about how overlooked he felt.  How we would all go back to our warm heated homes with food on the table, and forget about him. I didn’t tell Lowell, but it was not that way for me.  Nor, I suspect, for the other volunteers who help every Sunday. During the week, and especially when it’s cold or rainy, they are with me.  Lowell, Terry, Jerry and Keith.  Where were you last 3 guys today? I thought of you all week, brought a special coat for Keith, just as he requested.  Size Large, lined. I had promised to edit a book.  I told Terry I’d write about him to give him a voice.  Each week they linger on my mind, never forgotten. This past week I couldn’t eat.  Sick to my stomach thinking about you foraging for food.  Out there in the icy parking lot I think of them.  Next week I’ll write and copy 200 letters, in 200 envelopes and hand them words that will hopefully make a difference.  It’s a small gift, but in these times, words matter.

The front page of the New York Times this morning has the president talking about a home bailout, an article about companies cutting 401K match programs, and the economic crisis. Talking with the individuals that are homeless, I can often see the common thread of one bad decision or life tragedy (DUI for Larry, death of his son, conviction, ect) that leads to a  slow fade of a life.  A normal suburban family.  A support system.  A divorce, a slip up, a lack of discipline.   For all of us it seems to me that they key differentiator between a life on the edge and a life with a roof over our head is that.  Discipline. Control when it comes to addiction, alcohol, escape.  Discipline to save money.  IN the same New York Times I read an article about a man whose home is being foreclosed on.  In the photo, the very overweight man sits in a lazy boy chair watching television. Stacks of sports memorabilia he’s purchased over the years piled up all around. Buying , buying more, buying so much until his addiction has taken over the entire house.  I think of my friends on the street.  I wonder if discipline would make the difference in this man’s life.  If he’s had the discipline to save.  Instead of numb his depression or existence, or loss of a job with the buying, would he have more money saved up for his house? Of course he would.  We all would.  We seek escape, and we seek anything to numb the pain.  But in that is a never ending circle.

New York Times Best Selling Author