Encounter In The Park ©

In the park with Bob Deason

parkLast 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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20 Responses to Encounter In The Park ©

  1. Years ago, on my way to the office, at a long stop signal, I’d encounter Anthony and give him a Cliff Bar, or banana. If I were first in line, we would talk. I no longer drive that route; I wonder how he’s doing. Your story reminds me of how grateful I am for my life !

    ~ shinazy

  2. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Thanks for the reminder of how integrated our lives are, each person with each other person. I hope we never get so desensitized that we stop seeing each other, so self-centered that we stop giving: love.

    • Do you remember the guy who stood in a shopping mall holding up a sign that said “Free Hugs?” It was amazing how people reacted to that simple act of humanity.

  3. I am sure what the author did helped her. I do think that sometimes we are uncomfortable with some people’s choices. I have a family member who became homeless. He did everything he could, sold everything he had, looked for a long time for a job, but in the end he couldn’t keep his home, and then he couldn’t keep his apartment. He had family members who would have certainly given him a place to live. At the time he enjoyed his simple lifestyle. He wasn’t going hungry, he just couldn’t afford a place to actually live. He downsized everything he owned. He kept his car. He loved sleeping outdoors during that time. Eventually he did decide to go and stay with family. I have to say that he was a happier person when the park was his residency than the situation he is in now. I find that very interesting. He was pressured so much by other people to live with someone else and yet he was so much happier when he wasn’t bound by those social expectations.
    ~ Mellisa

    • Thanks for your comment Melissa. It is easy for us to assume that someone who is living in the park would prefer to be living in a shelter, but as you so poignantly point out, that is not always the case.

  4. It’s a touching story. I’ve found myself ignoring those on the corners with signs asking for $$, and wondered if my contribution would go in unhealthy ways. Why don’t they get a job, I wondered. Lazy! Gosh, now I wish I had a job (tho you won’t find me on a street corner). I’d like to think I can make a difference. Isn’t that why we’re here? Not ours to judge, but allow others their own space. We can offer tho – always. You’re a good person to make the offer. 🙂

    “Now, go have a great day!”
    ~ Kathy ~

  5. Maybe the sandwiches made her sick and she had to go to the emergency room. 🙂

    • I used only the finest ingredients.

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      The surrounding area is so full of lovely parks, as well as indoor respites for the homeless, I’d be surprised if she didn’t simply move on – mms

  6. Bob, I would say that you helped her, unless you saw the sandwich unbeaten. You did more than most. Your minister would be proud

    • Thanks Martin, I do think that Reverend Yetman would have approved.

    • Malati Marlene Shinazy

      Norman , I Agee. What seems like a small selfless act is actually a huge demonstration of love.

  7. This story is quite spooky, reminding me of Hemingway in terms of brevity but not as staccato.
    ~ Chris W.

  8. I enjoyed your story, Bob. My hope is that we would all have the compassion toward our fellow human beings that you showed that woman in the park. Interesting that she was only there for those four days and you never saw her again. These “chance” encounters remind me of this verse: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
    Keep writing (and sharing) your stories Bob, I really enjoy them. 🙂

  9. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Hi Chrisb. – curious about what you saw in the story as spooky. — mms

    • I think he meant it was “spookily Hemingwayesque.” Now there is a phrase that you don’t see often (if ever).