I’d planned to write about DNDN’s ups and downs but a human encounter last night derailed my thoughts. A man needed a blanket.
My traffic spikes when I write about stocks (particularly DNDN or MVIS), or when I write about positive global social trends (Golden Revolution) or simply sweet days (Ignore The News). This blog is inspired by my book, Dream. Invest. Live., which gives me a lot of writing latitude. The two most popular themes are investing and living. That covers a lot of territory and also explains why I’ve blogged a couple of thousand words a week for the last few years. (Go back to the original blog for the whole story.) But sometimes I write about what affects me. I suspect last night’s event affected more than a few of us.
Tuesday evenings are dance practice. We have no formal organization. A loose collection of volunteers choose music, set up a sound system, prep and clean the hall, and collect money as a fundraiser for a 1927 dance hall. (What were they thinking two years before the crash of 1929?) Last night was a relatively busy night, just enough folks to pay for the heat and maybe a bit for the hall and enough to be able to practice with lots of different partners. Considering the winter storm deluging the world outside, I was impressed with the turnout. Luckily the power stayed on.
About thirty minutes after we started, a man wearing too many layers walked in. He didn’t look like he was there to dance. He looked homeless. He politely talked discreetly to a few folks and then left. I’d seen him earlier when I was at the store across the parking lot. He’d been nursing a cup of hot coffee in a commons area that was warm and dry, but that closed when the last business locked its doors for the night. I saw him a couple of times there, once in the grocery and once in a print shop. Every time he was courteously crossing a comfort zone.
He didn’t talk to me. Maybe I was good at avoiding him. I suspected him of something, but didn’t know what. Something wasn’t right. For a homeless man he was wearing relatively good warm clothes. His face wasn’t weathered. His posture was erect. It was as if he was recently homeless, or more accurately, housed until recently. I guessed that he was in his sixties. When he was in the dance hall I watched as he walked past everyone’s jackets, coats and purses. When he was in the grocery and the print shop I assumed that the proprietors he was talking to were attentive to anything odd.
After he left the dance hall people were quietly asking each other about local shelters and spare blankets. Whidbey has many wonders but there is no homeless shelter on the south end that I know of. The thrift shops probably had spare blankets but they were closed. I thought about what I had in my car, but there wasn’t anything that would help in the rain.
I felt guilty about mistrusting him, or at least about not feeling more compassionately towards him. In wealthier days I had more resources for such times. I’d rarely given directly because once when I did it turned into a semi-stalker scenario. But last night felt more poignant. My money is tight. Unless my finances improve dramatically soon, I’ll be tapping a shrunken IRA soon. Another of the dancers was without power because of the storm. Another had no heat because a tree threatened the house and a propane tank that had to be moved. That emergency expense can be tough on someone recently unemployed. Within that room were people who had been or were close to his situation.
He wasn’t a homeless. Sometimes homeless is used as a label without reference to being a homeless person, a person without a home. He was a gentleman without a home, or a blanket, on a 40 degree night with 30 knot winds and over an inch of rain coming down. Now I realize that I should have a space blanket in the car as part of my emergency kit, and if I did, I could’ve given it to him – after I got past my suspicion and caution.
He is also a reminder of our current social upheaval. Debates rage between pundits and politicians about their ideologies. Pragmatism never seems to enter the debate. Yet, for every social ill, someone needs a pragmatic solution now. Food, shelter, and health care are immediate needs that don’t wait for debates.
He is also a reminder of the value of appreciating each moment and individual dignity. He maintained dignity throughout. I am typing this in a home without heat or power because the storm interrupted services yet again; but I appreciate the sound roof, walls, and windows, a full pantry, a laptop with hours of battery charge remaining, and a thermos of hot tea. I also appreciate the ability to help a friend who just called about a fence that needs to be rebuilt quickly. A tree fell across it, opening an escape route for much of a menagerie. The fence needs to be repaired before the animals find the gap.
I wish I’d treated him better. I console myself thinking that maybe he is actually fine and that he was only testing the neighbors to see how compassionate we are. Maybe his better attire was a sign of poor costuming and his poise was proof of a better life. I suspect not.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and thanks to him I will appreciate it more. Today, I think I’ll rummage around, find a spare blanket, and put it the car just in case. And I hope he is warm and well and heading to better days.