Talking Story

homelessI saw you sitting outside the Olive Garden on a park bench. Your toddler was held across your lap, sleeping. Admiring his blond curls, I almost missed your cardboard sign with its homeless, please help plea. I looked a little closer.

It was hot, August-in-the-city hot. Next to you was a faded stroller and an empty baby bottle. My stomach started to hurt.

My teenage daughter, strong, tall, and privileged, leaned close. “Let’s feed her.”

Such a simple thing.

We headed up the stairs and into the restaurant.

A little while later we walked out with a bag full of hot, fresh food and a to-go cup of ice water. I caught your eye as I approached and handed you the bag. “It’s not much,” I said, “but at least you can have a good meal.”

You took it and whispered, “Thank you. He’s very hungry.”

Not wanting to intrude, my daughter and I walked quickly away. Standing at the corner waiting for the light, my daughter looked back. “Wow. She’s really drinking that water fast.”

Should I get the cup back and offer to fill it again? The restaurant would do it if I asked. Would they do it for you?

“Look, Mom. Look at the baby. He’s happy.”

I risked a glance. I remembered that bounce, that baby bounce of delight in a high chair when I fed my kids things they loved. Seated in the stroller, your baby was doing that dance, reaching for the spoon as you tried to blow on the soup to cool it.

But you were hungry, too. Far hungrier than I’d realized until I saw how you’d scoop a bite, blow, eat half, then force yourself to stop, and feed the rest to your baby bouncing in anticipation.

The light turned green.

I should’ve gone back and filled your water cup. I should’ve taken some time to see if you needed diapers—of course you needed diapers—or had a place to stay. But the light turned green, and I had places to go.

In truth, I was so overwhelmed with your need that I didn’t know what to do.

I’m sorry I didn’t do more.

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