Warmth of a caring smile

BY: SUSAN LAKES

“Good to see you tonight,” I said as a young woman checked into one of the city’s two cold weather shelters one frigidly cold night.

She stopped. Our eyes met, and we both stared, silently.

“Oh no. I screwed that up big time,” I thought as we looked at each other. I was thinking how insensitive it was for me to tell someone that I was glad to see them checking into a homeless shelter for the night. “Note to self—–next time, keep your mouth shut and just nod or smile. No, don’t smile. Keep your head down and don’t stare,” I thought.

My mind got all jumbled up with a bunch of instructions. Yes, I was ecstatic to see scores of people filing into that cold shelter for a warm night’s respite, but I was also so very sorry that anyone has to live on the streets in the USA. How uncivilized is that shit? What are we doing wrong? What’s up with that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” stuff I had to recite way back in middle school?

That beautiful young woman standing beside me said something that snapped my thoughts back to the present, back to the inside of that cold weather shelter when she—a nameless but markedly faceless young woman said, “It’s good to be seen. I’m glad somebody sees me.”

Those words hooked me. Yep. That moment made me a believer, and I’m going back to that shelter over and over again to lend a few more volunteer hours.

Now, I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I’m not happy that hundreds—probably thousands—of people have to struggle on the streets of Cincinnati or anywhere else. I’m sad that there exists a need for food giveaways, shelters and all that at a time when top dogs like the big CEOs are scoring huge bonuses, pay and golden parachutes. Nope. Not happy about that kind of insensitivity.

I could stay home and pretend that we’ve solved the homeless problems. No. We haven’t.  So I’m going back. I’m going back the the shelter over and over and over again because someone saw me there and somehow knew I saw her too. She knew I saw her as the thinking, feeling and beautiful person she is.

Who knows—-maybe that lifted her up and gave her a ray of hope to and inspiration to press forward, upward and onward.

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