My community has had a hard week. Nearly a foot of rain, 70 mph winds, and many roads, schools, and businesses closed, people flooded out. Farms have been flooded and lives have been disrupted. And, the storms have kept on coming, with each new day bringing new challenges.
We are resilient folks, in the habit of doing kind things for our neighbors, helping out, offering support, food, a place to stay, and thousands of other small acts of charity and kindness.
Yesterday, I was enjoying lunch in a local café with my wife, taking a break from our errands on a day when the roads were opening up, and the shelves in the stores were getting restocked. The mail had gotten through the high water and landslides on the highway.
We were talking about being grateful to wake up in a warm house, with electricity, running water, and no water coming through the door, and how we like living in a place where people care about each other.
A man rushed into the café, with a container of homemade soup and some cornbread in a plastic bag.
“This is for the man that lives in the woods. He comes by here most every day,” he said. “I want to make sure he gets this.”
“When you see him, give him this,” he said. “Please”.
He was on his way out of town, now that the roads were opening up, but he didn’t want to forget about the homeless man who lived out in the woods, in this very wet and windy week.
“I’ve been worried about him,” he said.
The waitress nodded, and mentioned she hadn’t seen him lately. Before she could try to tell him that she probably couldn’t accept the task, health laws and such, he flew out the door, thanking her again for helping out a homeless guy.
She filled up my coffee cup again, a few tears in her eyes.
“That man in the woods, he comes by here once in a while,” she said. “But I haven’t seen him this week. I’ve been worried, too.”
“Hopefully, he’s made it to the warming center in town,” she said. “But, the water’s been high and covered the highway. Such nasty weather.”
I sipped my warm coffee, and finished my burger, with new thoughts of appreciation for the simple comforts in life, and watched the rain hit the window, as another heavy shower moved in.
I don’t know the man, and I haven’t seen him around. But I think about him now, and what it must be like, living out there in the woods, in a week when the rivers are over their banks, and the winds howl through the trees.
We know those woods, and go there for walks, looking for birds and old trees, spring flowers and berries later on in summer. I hadn’t thought that people lived there, though, especially not now, when the ground is soaking wet, or even flooded, and the winter storms blow through. I shivered, squirming inside my nice dry shoes, trying to imagine what last night might have been like, sleeping out there, in the dark and the rain.
In a few weeks, it will be Christmas, when we’ll hear that story again, about a homeless couple and how they found refuge in a barn, and a place to give birth to their beautiful child. How a stranger had let them use his barn, and gave them food.
The waitress put the soup and cornbread in the cooler. The café fell silent then, everyone watching her, everyone thinking about what we’d just seen, thinking about being homeless and hungry on a day like today, the meaning of Christmas, and angels in our midst.
—Neal Lemery 12/12/2015