He told me his name was Tom while he wiped a tear from his cheek before it crept under the flap of his sheepskin hunter's hat. He wasn't crying. It was just that those kind, ice blue eyes probably had seen more than 70 years, and they could no longer fight the cold wind that cruelly bit into them.
"I'm here every day," he said, big smile on his face. "7 to 9." At first I thought it was an odd corner to choose, but even while we were standing there together he made $5.
I pulled my coat around my bare ears. I was glad he had that hat. His aged skin could surely not face this weather unprotected. I handed him a mug of hot chocolate. His eyes saddened.
"Thank you, dear, but I can't drink that."
I thought, "Lactose intolerant?" So I said, "I made it with water, not milk." He looked at me quizzically.
"No, thanks. Coffee hurts my stomach."
"Oh! It's hot chocolate though." His face lit up and he took the mug from me. "I just thought it would keep you warm today," I offered.
"Thank you. I stay pretty bundled up too." He watched me set two paper bags down by his own bag (a small travel case that contained all of his worldly possessions).
"I made you a little lunch, just in case you need it."
"Thanks again," he said, all the while smiling. And then I lost it, so I told him to have a good day and practically ran back to the car. I couldn't contain myself and my husband sat with me for a moment while I gained composure.
Then he got out to talk to Tom again. I watched in the rear-view mirror.
"Are you certain there's nothing else we can do for you?" he asked him.
"Oh, I just try to raise $10 here every day. That's all. If I can, I've got a warm, safe place to stay with a nice bed and where I can get a shower and a shave." My husband responded with an affirming nod.
Tom kept talking. "I don't go to those other shelters because you can't make it there unless you're rough and tough and young. Otherwise they take your shoes and your clothes or they hurt you. That's why I keep my stuff with me," he said pointing to the bag.
He went on talking about needing a prayer; he said he didn't need a ride to church on Sunday because he had a friend who took him. They shook hands. We drove away. He waved at us from the cold, lonely sidewalk while we scooted away in our warm car.
And even though it was practically masochism, I kept him on my mind. I imagined the time in his life when he had a family and a job and a house and wondered how it happened that those things were no more. Now he was too old to get a job and his wife was probably gone. I questioned why they'd never had children or if they had how on earth they could allow this to happen to their father.
My thoughts went on and on and my insides churned with actual physical pain. These were the kind of days and times when old phrases like, "I'll fly away, O glory," made sense and I daydreamed about a heaven with no pain or tears or abandoned people.
So many days I wonder, "How can You bear to watch us and what we've done with Your world? We toss aside and fight for ourselves and wage war with eyes and guns. Even now I'm selfishly longing to be removed from this place of pain instead of pushing through for Tom."
My husband effortlessly steered the car into a parallel parking spot right in front of our apartment. I loved our apartment. And inside were dirty dishes and a cozy bed and my adorable dog. I reminded myself of all the happiness allowed me in this world, and today I press on with that in mind.