In the Shadows of the Street

Male hand begging for moneyI gave my last ten dollars last night to a man sitting huddled into his coat, leaning against his backpack, in the gray shadows of a dark Detroit street.

He sat there, a sweatshirt hood over his head, bent into lack of recognition, and held a sign between his dirt-caked hands that said, “Hungry. Homeless.”

My kids and I had already briskly walked past him, averting our gaze, but the words on the sign did not escape my notice. I stopped and turned, riffling through my purse for the last money I had after spending far too much at the hockey game.

We retraced our steps and I bent my knees to get nearer the man. He looked up at me, and then I could clearly see his face. His eyes were searching, full of hope and a little despair.

“Here,” I said.

“Thank you,” he replied.

He was so young. That’s what I remember thinking as we walked away, and hoping that my meager ten dollars would help him find something nourishing, even if just for a short while. Ten dollars does not go far these days.

His hand, as it reached for the money I offered, was thoroughly covered in a thick layer of dirt. It had clearly been there a while, his version of warm winter gloves.

On a Detroit street too near the icy river, this man sat in the dark night, alone and without, garnering little attention, silent in his asking.

keep silenceWhat brought him to the street, I wondered. Such a young man, his face not yet lined with the worry and wear of life. In another context, those searching eyes could be telling another story, not one of helplessness and powerlessness, of unnoticed need, of a person disappearing into the shadows.

And shadows they were.

My eldest son worried about the possibility of our car windows being smashed and our precious belongings being stolen while we sat in the seats my family has owned since Joe Louis Arena was built in 1979. While we cheered and screamed, waited patiently and hopefully for a goal, any goal, to help our team to a win, would someone penetrate the safety we believe we have around us?

I didn’t worry, but Asher did. For it was dark and cold, and in the dark stories swirl around you with impossible endings and sinister intentions.

The walk along the concrete from our $20 parking space to the old gray arena, up the steep steps, through the metal detectors and past the bronze statue of Gordie Howe mid-shot, was enough time for the imagination to do its job.

portrait of real hoboDid I say it was cold? Has the irony of $20 spent on a place to park where we have the illusion of security hit you yet? $20 for a brief few hours of leaving our expensive vehicles under someone’s careful watch, while we sit in $100 seats for a game of grown men slapping at a tiny black puck across the slick ice, and getting in each other’s faces when the pressure of no scores in period one or period two grows too intense?

And then I gave my last ten to a man on the street. Knowing the ten dollars wouldn’t go far enough. That nothing I could offer him in that moment would be nearly enough, just a start, just a beacon of hope that people do care, that in his eyes I can see the humanity that lives in me, too.

Were it not for virtue of the family I was born into or the safety nets they set for me or the very luck of living one life versus another, I might sit in his shadows, hoping for the generosity of a stranger.

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