About three weeks ago, we had a brief reprieve from winter’s wrath and rain fell in soggy sheets. In fact, it was one of those days where you can actually see rain falling on rain – layers of wet. My attempts to sidestep puddles proved futile as my feet got increasingly soaked and I looked slightly unhinged.
While walking the inside of one of our main downtown streets, I encountered a street-living individual with active paranoid schizophrenia that I had privilege of working with through a previous work-stint. We will call him “Survivor”. Survivor is a very meek and kind man.
He remains well equipped with a heavy, ribbed jacket for the colder nights, a sleeping bag, knapsack of odds and ends and a painted sign that said “Save the Brain Forests”. He was convinced that after receiving teeth implants years ago that he was being tracked and followed by dangerous people. Who was I to argue?
At one point, Survivor lived in a rooming house and slept in an oversized dog cage, as he felt the metal bars would assist in blocking the frequencies being relayed to those monitoring him. He has been approached by numerous crisis workers over the years who have encouraged him to seek support but he has declined, respectfully. Since he is at no physical risk to self or others, we’ve had to respect his wishes and assist him in the ways he has allowed us.
I noticed that Survivor was sitting on the ground on this particular day, drenched as I passed with my umbrella expressed. Since I was right around the corner from my work box, I offered him mine. I have several back-ups at home because I forget that I own them. It was a very large umbrella – the kind that incites umbrella envy in others.
He politely accepted but I had no idea what became of it next. Perhaps he threw it away, sold it or gave it to someone else. Just because it was offered, it does not make it something he necessarily wanted. I’ve known lots of street-living people who smile graciously when accepting someone’s idea of charity, just to discard the used socks, mustard-of-the-month coupon or pet moth just moments later
Fast forward to the present – today was even wetter. In fact, the forecast indicated we might be at risk of minor flooding due to the ground saturation levels. I was walking down the same street, still mired in my morning mirk when I saw him in the exact same spot, sitting under that same umbrella. I beamed.
Sure, the umbrella wasn’t something that will change the trajectory of his life or improve his worsening mental health symptoms, but it was keeping him dry, or at least drier than would be the case otherwise. That’s worth something, right? When our eyes met, he said “Hey, thanks again.” In reality, my act of kindness wasn’t that noble. I really hated the pattern on the shell.