Angels on Urban Streets
SIX months ago I lost my home. I left behind four walls and a roof; I left behind a small city, friends, and the sense of who I am. It wasn't my choice to leave, and Boston was the last place that I would have chosen to settle. But for six months now, I've been struggling to find some sort of connection to the nameless people who pass me by each day.Skip to next paragraph
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Ithaca, N.Y., was where I had begun my career and established a feeling of family. My neighbors, students, even the janitors who cleaned my classroom knew me. I was so much more than "the lady with the face of an angel," as some of them called me. Now I'm half an hour away from relatives who've never known me or with whom I long ago lost contact.
Perhaps it was my own sense of homelessness that impelled me several weeks ago. At the time I didn't understand what I was doing. It started on a rainy day, when I went out to lunch with an acquaintance from the office.
As we moved along Huntington Avenue, we passed several homeless men, each with an empty mug. Dripping with water, we skirted around them, guarding our change. One man caught my eye and said sarcastically, "Thank you, lady!"
We finished the walk and ordered a trayful: four burgers, four fries, and two drinks. The manager eyed us, two cherubic faces who looked a bit out of place.
When my friend was halfway through her meal and I was rearranging my pile, a man more than twice my size placed his hands on our table. He was holding gift certificates for this restaurant. "I'll sell you these for only $3," he said.
My friend said no, and the man tightened his grip on the table. "You don't know how hard it is to live in Boston," he said, and once again he held out the certificates. I knew that they had expired.
My friend suggested that he use them to buy a meal. He began slowly to rock the table. He bent over me, and rain streaked down his cap to my cheeks. "How about you, miss?" he said to me, "You got a dollar?" There was something almost frightening about the fact that someone so large and powerful had to beg a small woman for money.
Wishing I could do more, I gave him my last 50 cents, and then I watched him be escorted back out to the street by a member of the Guardian Angels. I felt guilty for being privileged, and it bothered me that an "angel" had to lead the man out. I caught a glimpse of my face in the window, and I wrapped up my second sandwich for the man with the cup on the corner.
"Bless you, lady," he said this time. "Thank you so much!" His smile was wide and genuine.
On the way back to work I thought about the faces I see every day in the city, and the face that I present to people who don't know me. It's easy to walk along without expression, blaming others for not seeing beyond your appearance when you see them as just part of the scenery.
Two weeks later I went back to Huntington Avenue, past the crowds coming out of the symphony. In my wallet was money for two complete lunches. But the man with the cup wasn't there. It was bitter cold and the sidewalks were icy. Without thinking, I made my way over to a shivering woman. The change in her cup made a strange kind of music.