As many of you know, I write letters to Bridget. I send them to an email account I created for her, along with pictures and song recommendations. When she’s 18, I’ll give her the password & then she can read all of them. This is one I wrote this morning for her.
I’m thinking about you and the panhandler…and I need to write this story down in a letter to you.
We saw him by the arterial. He’s there most days lately in the mornings, asking for money from people on their way to work. He is an old slender man, stooped under the weight of misfortune. His face is whiskered, wrinkled. His skin baked from the wind & sun. He always hold the same cardboard sign that reads “Need help, need work.” The first time you saw him on the corner, you asked me about him. I explained he was asking for people to give him money. “But why?” You asked. I explained that sometimes people don’t have a place to go or sometimes don’t have enough money for things they need…I explained that sometimes people just…struggle. I don’t tell you that there have been times where I was one of those people. I don’t tell you about sleeping in Proctor Park because I had nowhere to go. I don’t tell you that there were times when I had $7 left in my bank account and I didn’t know how I was going to eat…I don’t tell you how during those times, I would nurse a cup of coffee for hours in this little diner on Genesee St. Not because I was cold or in danger, I spent time hours there just to get a break from having no place to go & to use their bathroom. To feel like anyone else who might walk in that diner, be able to pay for a cup of coffee, sit in a booth and have a kind, elderly waitress acknowledge their existence even if it was just to ask if they would like a refill. To feel….human. I don’t tell you any of that now because those are stories for another day in a far away year, when you’re old enough to understand. All you need to know at this point is people HAVE stories and we need to be kind.
The next day, he was there again. Your brother, not understanding, laughed at the panhandler standing in the cold. You became very upset and told Rowan to stop. In a voice more wise with compassion than most adults I know, you said, “It’s not funny. Sometimes people have issues and they need us to be nice the most. Right, mom?”
When the weekend came, I had to take you & Rowan with me to the consignment store to buy winter boots and a coat, all that I could really afford. I took some money from your porcelain piggies and put it in your little star shaped purse. I told you that you and your brother could each pick out a toy at the store, if you were well behaved and listened. We came up to the corner. He wasn’t there. I could tell you were looking for him, that his absence was like a splinter in your thumb. “What’s the matter, B?” I asked you. “I wish he was there. I would have asked you to stop the car so I could give him some of the money you gave me. I mean, I know it’s not a lot—but if you have nothing, a little something can be a lot, I guess.” I silently wept in the front of the car all the way to the store…my heart just fully clenched with love for you. We bought your second-hand coat and boots and a couple shirts for you each—but I left the store feeling like I was filthy with richness.
The next week, the man was there again at his usual spot. You smiled and waved to him. He didn’t smile, but he nodded and waved back. I asked why you did that. You told me you just wanted him to know you saw him there every day. And B? You’re right in ways that you don’t even know about yet. You’re right. People just want to be seen. Not looked at. SEEN. Not a bum holding a sign—a person who made mistakes or has issues and is just trying to survive like the rest of us. Just like I was not a cheapskate holding up a booth in a diner to sip only coffee for hours & then not even leave a good tip.
So, B, I see you. I see a girl who loves rainbows because she embraces differences & requires the whole spectrum of color in her life. I see a girl who is both the most exasperatingly stubborn and funny human I have ever met. I see a girl who loves humanity—even when it’s not beautiful or kind. (Maybe especially then.) I see a girl who wants to change the world by loving it into its new existence, even if it hurts her. I see a girl who wants everyone she meets to be her friend. I see the smartest girl I know. I see a girl who doubts herself, who expects too much out of herself—and tries like mad to always do her best. I see a girl who at times struggles to like herself, because she sees herself through a lens darkly…
But in time, B, in time, you will have to see how wonderful you are, how wonderful you have always been—and if you ever forget, all you have to do is look through my eyes.
With all the love I have for you in this world & the next,