Saturday, August 23, 2008


Last night I was out in front of the house with a pair of scissors trimming back a rangy bougainvillea that sends thorny shoots across the path between the garden and the house, because every time I have to go around to the back of the house to flip the breaker switch (because the wiring in our house can't handle the air conditioners) I get scratched and I'm sick of it. It was still very warm out and humid, the air was thick. I heard someone faintly say, "Excuse me?" and I turned to see a small thin man in a white t-shirt that came down to his knees standing in the street. He started talking, but I couldn't make out what he was saying, so I moved closer, and he said, "I'm sorry, I have lung cancer and can't speak very loudly."

Then he told me the story, the one somebody must teach classes in because panhandlers everywhere I've lived from New York to Nashville to San Francisco all tell some version of it, and it ends with, "... and I just need $_____ to get back home." But halfway through the story, this man's eyes teared up and his whole head broke out in a sweat and he said, "and I'm so hot, and I don't even know where I can get some water."

I told him that I couldn't give him money but that I could give him water. I went into the house and filled a quart bottle with cold water and took it out to him. He thanked me and walked back the way he came, tipping the bottle up to take a long drink. I could feel that cold water running down his throat, and I hoped it made him feel a little bit better for at least a little while.

If I were in that situation, alone and in such dire need in a city on a hot and humid night, no matter what the circumstances that brought me there, I doubt I would survive it. I think I would just collapse, mentally, emotionally, physically. I think about that pretty often. I feel a great admiration for that man because he is stronger than I am.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Even though I've heard the story before in several variations, this one made me tear up. I'm not sure if it was his story or your compassion... Good work, "Go like water."