To the homeless woman in town today, I just want you to know, I saw you. Three times actually, as I went about my errands. Me in my nice clean car, you on foot, not so clean. I saw you.
I’m embarrassed to admit, only my eyes saw you the first two times. Off to a meeting, then to the bank, you were making your way down the street. A tiny slip of a woman, lean arm muscles showing, carrying your belongings in your two hands, dirty, head to toe, wild hair, shuffling along at a labored but swift pace.
Oh, light is green, off I go.
Later while on my way to the post office and store, about a mile farther down the road from the original location, I see you once again.
“Why don’t I ever have any cash in my purse?!” I think as I dig through my impossible-to-find-anything purse. So weird. I have seen this same homeless woman twice in one morning now. I wish I had a few bucks for you, as I pass you by, going back about my day.
A couple hours later, I am dropping my husband off to pick up another vehicle from the repair shop, about three miles away from where I previously spotted you.
It’s now 92 degrees outside, about 3:00 in the afternoon. I am sweaty and cranky, having just gotten back inside my air-conditioned car and I spot you once again. You are crossing over the freeway overpass, making your way along the black asphalt…barefoot. Dear God, you are freaking barefoot! No wonder you were shuffling like you were. Your expression shows nothing different than when I saw you earlier, same determined look, just getting through another minute, another hour, another day. Regular side walk, burning asphalt, doesn’t really matter…all parts of the same hard road.
While I had seen you before, this time you take my breath away. “Yes God, I see her.” I say out loud. It took three times, but my heart has seen you now, you in all your grace.
I drive as quickly to the closest shoe store I can find, and in my town full of convenience, it’s just three minutes away. I have no idea what size shoe you wear. You look average size to me…but what would your shoe size be? What color should they be? What would you pick? Some of the styles are too stiff, some would definitely rub wrong between your toes. The sales lady points out that if you are currently making your way across asphalt barefoot, you probably aren’t too concerned about any of these things I have stopped to fuss about.
I opt for a sandal with a comfortable black sole and soft fabric for straps. Hopefully these will be adjustable enough in the event I get your size wrong.
Back to find you. I’m a little embarrassed now as I drive back to where I last saw you. It seems ridiculous, me chasing after you with a pair of sandals. I know this small token won’t make a huge difference in your situation; a situation so much bigger than what I see here on the surface, than what I think I see, than what I think I know. Damn it…where are you now? I search the surrounding streets with no luck.
I have shoes for you, but I really just need you to know I see you.
I will find you again and this time I am ready.
I’ve even gathered up a few pairs of shoes now, permanently taking up space in my trunk, just like your pain and anguish have permanently taken up space in my heart.
The saying, “Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge” makes a huge literal assumption that you have shoes. Could you walk her mile?
If you’d like to know more about Mike Yankowski, author of Under the Overpass, and the work that he is doing, please check out his site, undertheoverpass. In his book, he and a friend spend time in six different US cities as homeless men and document their journey. Hard not to see the people once you have been there.