In the park with Bob Deason
Last winter, I met a friend in the park every morning at 7 to go for a walk. It is good exercise, and it is just a good way to start the day. However, it was usually pretty cold. Now I don’t mean New England winter cold, but it was almost always right around freezing.
One morning when I got to the park, there was a woman in a sleeping bag on one of the park benches. She had a number of parcels pulled in around her, as if everything that she had left in the world was right there. I felt the usual “There but for the Grace of God go I” moment. Then my friend arrived, we went on our walk, and the woman in the park was forgotten . . . until the next day. We were there bright and early, and so was she, curled up in a ball to preserve body heat. It was clear that she was staying . . . at least until someone moved her.
There she was, right in front of me each day, so it was no longer a chance encounter with someone who reminded me of unpleasant realities. I had to make a choice to either do something, or treat her as one of the “invisibles.” It really was no choice. I had to do something, but what was the best thing to do? I want to help, but I really don’t want to get involved. I could call the welfare office to get her some help, but is that what she would want? I finally decided on the direct approach. The next morning I brought a cup of hot coffee and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and left them next to her with the words, “This is for you.” She nodded but said nothing. We repeated this pattern for the next 2 days, and then she was gone.
Her absence left me wondering where she had gone, and also forced me to examine my own motives. Did I do what I did out of true compassion, or just to try and make myself feel better? I certainly did feel better each morning that I left her a modest breakfast, and I lost that feeling when she moved on. I just hope that what I did helped her make it through a few days, and that she has somehow found her way to a better place.
photo by Bob Deason
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