A few years ago I was going through a bit of a tough time. Mom had just passed and I would find myself in periods of deep thought, followed by points of complete mindlessness. I would over analyze the most simple of concepts and simultaneously forget to eat. What seemed important to the rest of the world was irrelevant compared to my of the second needs, thoughts and emotions. The past had no color, the future had no hope and the present had no flavor. My senses were numbed. Life just felt too real and some days I just couldn't get my head together.
It's not that I was without humor. Fact is, finding humor or a lesson in the absurd is where your brain and heart make a connection. So the funny thing is I repeatedly locked myself out of the house. Over and Over Again. I got to know the 24 hour locksmith by his first name. His name is Steve. He can be at your house in less than 45 minutes, unlock your door, and conveniently put $95 on your Mastercard in an hour's time. My mind was racing to the point of forgetting the most normal of routines while contemplating all of the new stimulus I was dealing with. I locked myself out of the house downtown 5 times in 6 weeks. That doesn't even count the 3 times I did so at the homestead at Mom's. That one got a little more real as I busted in the front door and then drove the car into the side of the house by accident being late for an appointment. I was just over it.
Did I have other sets of keys? Yes, but I had given them all out to friends, family and tenants. Was there a set in the garage? Yes, but the battery in the key pad was dead and of course I had neglected to change that too. Could I have called some one? Well yes If I hadn't also locked my phone, wallet and shoes in the house behind me. Fact is I knew what I was doing the split second that I pulled the door shut............unable to stop the motion and cussing all the way, kind of in the same way that I could see the house coming towards the car but couldn't take my foot off the gas.
So, I'm outside with no keys. No wallet. No phone. No shoes. At that point I was just happy to have pants on. What next? What to do? First thing was to get to a phone. That sounds easy enough, but as we rarely now know our neighbors in a friendly enough fashion to knock on their door at midnight, would they even allow you to use their phone...? How many phone numbers do you even know by memory today? I'm more likely to remember my best friend's parents hard line number from 1978 than what my own Father's current cell number is. How about you?
So, after about ten minutes of cussing, crying and just generally being pissed off, I began to walk. Luckily I lived less than a mile from where I worked and could get to a phone.
Previously when people would ask me if I walked to work, I would say, "are you kidding............my hair would be messed up". but this walk was far more thought provoking than just my vanity. I felt vulnerable. I was a healthy, adult, capable man of commanding size. I had no phone to use in an emergency. I had no wallet to take if approached close to darkness. I was in socks. Not just barefoot........but I looked homeless and crazy. I hadn't really thought about it at the time, but that was the reality of the moment. I was walking downtown, through alleys, under over passes, through darkness all to get to a phone in my stocking feet.
I was lucky enough to have a friend drive me home, and use their phone to call "Steve", so I got back into my house without any bumps or bruises or damage to my feet. The socks didn't fare so well.
I hadn't thought much about that walk much until lately. The homeless situation downtown has become increasingly noticeable. I have thought about it for many reasons and with many different faces and hearts. Where have they all come from? Where can they go and how can we help? How safe would I have been walking through some of these make-shift environments today as compared to 3 years ago? How does this affect the economy and health of our city? There are many variables to being homeless including circumstances, addiction, mental illness and yes, those that even choose to be, but I never get comfortable with it. What would I do or be if I had no other choice or felt no other option? I have never been in a situation where this would even be possible, but have known and even helped a number of people, much like me, that were close to this decision.
I was driving to work the other day and approaching the edge of the downtown Wholesale district as a woman was crossing the street. She looked a little disheveled. It wasn't really her clothes as she had on a skirt and t-shirt top, and carried a rather large duffel bag. It wasn't till I paid more attention to her behavior, actions and details that made me realize she was homeless. She seemed recently bathed and combed, but she had no shoes. She was walking in just her socks, and from the more worn appearance of them, for quite some time. I wasn't sure whether she was shoe-less by choice or if some other emotion or mental glitch has caused this. For this reason, it took me back. She hasn't chosen this turn of events and many things were swirling around in her head that made it difficult for her to think and make sense of things.
I couldn't get the image out of my head. A woman old enough to be my Mother's age, walking around the city with no shoes. No matter how much you want to help, sometimes too much is just too much, and in a basic world of misgivings.......................the basics are the building blocks of higher understanding.
So, I got basic. I wanted to find this woman and help her, but knew I would probably never find this lady again. Instead, I went home and bagged up shoes. I still had shoes from Mom and always have shoes that I have never even taken out of the box. I bagged them up and put them in the trunk of the car.
I stopped the other day on my way home from work under the overpass where the homeless have congregated and set up their make-shift quarter and asked a man if he would help me. He cautiously came forward and said yes, I said I've got some shoe for you. I'm sorry if they are not your size, but if you would be kind enough to pass them out to those that need them, I would be grateful. The quick conversation was the deepest 15 second parlay I think that I have ever had, knowing I had done something more powerful than just a gift of footwear.
It didn't matter that we didn't talk about adding or removing monuments. They didn't care about North Korea. North Carolina is a planet away for them. The Eclipse? Days can be dark for other reasons. They needed shoes.
I wasn't able to help the woman walking the street in her socks..............................but I too had walked a mile in mine