There he goes again.

spring-bird

There he goes again.

I watch from my office window as a man in faded blue jeans limps across the street using a crooked stick for a cane. He wears a straw hat over a mess of grey hair.  From this distance, it is hard to tell if he is wearing his teeth, but it seems unlikely.  In his free hand, he carries a plastic bag from the gas station.  The bag contains his sickness and the cure.

I am surprised to see the man return so soon after the bitter cold of winter, certain that he resettled in the south, retired and resigned from a life of struggle on the street. Then like a bird of spring, he suddenly returned and resumed his daily activities as though there was never any interruption.

Most mornings, the man leaves his nest of dirty blankets and plastic bags and travels across the street to fuel up on cigarettes, cheap booze, and a pack of peanuts or crackers.   He returns to doze in the comfort of his makeshift home until he runs out of supplies and is forced to make the trek once again.  Sometimes he is gone for long stretches of time.  I like to think he made it to the mission for a hot meal and a few days off the street or is visiting with an old friend rather than the more likely truth that he was arrested for public intoxication or hospitalized for seizures.

Time and time again, he returns. Unchanged and uncompromised.  Always limping and always with the hat.

He is surviving off of the elements, earth, wind, air and fire, and asks for nothing more. Yet, the people around him refuse to accept his decision to live and die in the alley behind an abandoned building. He remains at odds with these concerned neighbors.  They want him housed and sober, in treatment, at the least.  They want him to sleep in a bed and eat nutritious meals, to be warm and safe.

Meanwhile, he is determined to drink himself to death, programmed to self-destruct by a wicked and powerful hand. He is centered and focused on a course that is difficult to change; it is one that he is not interested in diverting from and next to impossible for his concerned neighbors to understand.   While they scheme to bring him in, coordinating agencies and professionals in the effort, they forget to look up at my spring bird.

He needs freedom, dignity and is one of the rare few who has not forgotten how to fly.

There he goes again.

 
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Simple Things

sheets

 

Flourish

He stretched out on the firm bed and kicked off one dirty sneaker and then the other. They fell with heavy thuds, weighted with mud and water. He peeled off his wet socks, once white now brown, with little difficulty. The socks sagged around his ankles, stretched and unwashed. His feet were snakes shedding their skin for new growth, wrinkled and pruned in their newness. Without hesitation, the old skins were dropped over the side of the bed, following the muddy shoes.

The bed was covered in a bright patchwork quilt of connecting rings and had fat down pillows in white cases. Patiently, the pillows waited for his weary head, while resting on tightly wrapped sheets with perfectly folded corners. The man struggled to loosen their hold and released the smell of sunshine, still fresh from drying on the line.

He hesitated, the bed was so clean, but he was so tired. Giving in to the tiny invisible hands pulling his eyelids, he dropped onto a pillow and let his eyes close. His head slowly sank deeper and deeper. He wrapped the colorful blanket around his aching body and gave into the sinking.

The stars searched for the man, they watched him drift into sleep last night as they had for the past thousand nights. They watched him curl up in pile of moldy blankets under a tarp, tucked into the back lot of an abandoned property. They silently twinkled and worried, never knowing if a few good nights of rest could restore a man’s heart and ability to plan for the future.

On Dignity

There is always more to a person than a first impression allows to be known. It takes time and trust to find out what a person needs or wants and who they are, were, and want to be someday.  When I first met The Chef,  she called me into her bedroom where she was resting on a bedside commode, clearly occupied with the business at hand.  She apologized with a toothless mouth but she needed some time before we could start.  About five to ten minutes of talk show drama played out on a tiny television before The Chef’s electric wheelchair backed out of the bedroom.  She zipped past me to the kitchen and yelled, “Be right there.”

After a few more minutes, she returned to the cluttered living room and was ready to start. If I had trusted my first impression of The Chef, I would have thought that she was resistant and unfocused.  I had to check my feelings of frustration towards her for making me wait by remembering that this was her life.  I was able to leave at anytime and return to the security of a life outside the struggles of the inner city, while she couldn’t get out of her electric wheelchair without help.  This was a life in which she was trapped and I needed to get my ego out of the way.  My time and life were of equal importance with hers, and it was something that I needed to remember.

By the end of our visit, I realized just how much life this woman had lived. She wasn’t always confined to a wheelchair because of her bad heart, shaky legs or obesity.  In fact, she grew up spending most of her time in the kitchen, standing on two strong legs next to her grandma, where she learned to cook.  This early experience turned into a career; she started in fast food and worked her way up to better restaurants.  She created new menus with a soul food twist and fed hundreds with her meals.  Along the way, she taught others how to not only season and spice, but to work hard and do things the right way.

Food was her passion but also her vice, leading to her multiple health problems and the eventual end of her career. She still cooks meals with enough to feed anyone who stops by her door, lured by the smell of chicken and vegetables.  Although, disregarded by society due to her poor health, she remains a person of worth, deserving of respect and defining dignity.  She is a person with a past and a future and infinitely more than a mere disability/health condition.

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