Three nights a week, as I walk from work to my parking space, I see a person. A very small, obviously homeless person. I had never seen the face or even been sure of the gender of the person until last week.
Now I know it's a woman. She wears a hoodie, tied tightly around her tiny head, dirty coveralls and heavy army boots. She is always huddled in a tiny ball in the doorway of the same shop. She is usually motionless, which always makes me wonder whether tonight is the last night that I will see her. On occasion, as I pass, I will see her shift a bit or hear her murmur something or mutter. A few times I have left a bit of food for her. I stopped doing that last year after a piercing shriek and a tiny,dark fist shot out from the sleeping bag-bundled form. She was probably just scared. Now, so was I.
Week after week, I would check to be sure she had a blanket or a wrap of some sort and she always did. Every week, she seemed to get smaller and my concern only grew. Then, the Groundhog Day blizzard hit Chicago followed by a deep dive in the temperature. That Friday I noticed she was only covered in newspapers and a filthy towel. It shook me to the bone to see her that way. Nothing is open at midnight so I couldn't help that way and there was no blanket in my car. But, I vowed to drop off something to her next week when I worked. I prayed for her safety and well-being until I could help her.
And I tried. I really tried. But, she didn't want the blanket that I brought for her. Or, the small area rug that would separate her from the damp, cold concrete. She waved me off and pointed to the new blanket that enveloped her and said she was fine. Her face was small and dark and deeply-lined. Her eyes large and dark but serene. Her voice was soft and soothing when shoe spoke to me. And, she was so calm. So very calm. She made it clear that she wanted to be left alone. So I walked away, feeling a little bit useless and a day late to help.
But now I know what I truly didn't know before. Don't wait to help. Step up to the plate today, and not tomorrow. The next time someone needs something, I want to be there the day before, with an armful of 'blankets'.