He walked down Highlands Ranch Parkway, each step slow, his back burdened with a pack filled to half his size. A white beard sprouted from his chin, matching the frizzy patches escaping the edges of his stocking cap.
We saw him walking as we returned from an early morning cross country practice, my 14-year-old and I. Homeless people don’t make it to our side of town very often, not like downtown on Lawrence Street, near the Denver Rescue Mission. We may be only 40 minutes away, but we might as well be in another world.
He caught our notice, he with his long overcoat, layers of clothing and back pack, like rain drops when the sun is shining. He didn’t fit.
At first I doubted the authenticity of his homeless status. Homeless people don’t waltz into Highlands Ranch. We are the suburban haven for the wealthy and educated. Not everyone is rich, but our destitute hide behind outrageous mortgage payments, perilous credit card debt and the steering wheels of the newest Lexus.
We’ve driven to the rescue mission countless times, served dinner to the homeless and delivered clothes and packages to the down and out. But the down and out came to us today, and I knew what we had to do.
Now on a mission, my son and I drove home. In five minutes time, we packed a back full of sandwiches, chips, fruit, homemade cookies, granola bars, a bottle of apple juice and a napkin. Everyone deserves the dignity of a napkin.
We found him, only a few blocks from where we left him. As I pulled the car up, I saw his dirty face, his obvious disorientation at a stoplight, the question mark he offered when my son asked him a simple question: “Are you hungry?”
Another car pulled up at the same time we did, with a grocery bag filled with water bottles. Both of us walked toward the man, laid our offerings at his feet, asked him if he needed anything, and then quietly left.
Such a small gift. Ridiculous in its smallness. After I drove away, I felt ashamed, embarrassed even that I hadn’t done more. Sometimes I don’t know what to do. The breadth of the need is greater than my ability to meet it. I feel helpless. Perhaps that’s why many of us often do nothing.
Today we did something. A small something, but it was a start. And as we drove back home, minus one grocery sack filled with food and a dash of dignity, my 14-year-old simply said,
“I’m glad we did that.”