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So Many Clothes

Posted on by Philip

It’s not that I’m necessarily a bad person. At least I gave it some thought; a bad person wouldn’t have even considered it. That has to count for something.

This week has been cold. Not Siberia cold, or even Midwest cold, but cold for Portland. It’s the coldest this winter has been yet. Cold enough that I was glad my schedule called for taking the train into work, rather than again freezing my fingers off on my bicycle.

I started taking the bus and train into work a few months ago after injuring my knee and having surgery (which is an option I am fortunate to have). This means that rather than entering my office building through the parking garage, I enter through the main lobby, a path to which takes me by Brian, a gentleman who lives on the street. I’ve seen Brian there for a very long time, even before my modified route took me by him. He is at a set of trash cans on the northeast corner of the block – every single morning. Always polite, never aggressive.

I know Brian’s name because one day as I went by him on my crutches he befriended me. No, I did not befriend him, it was definitely him who reached out and expressed sympathy for my plight. He’d been there. Every day he would ask how I was doing and how my knee was progressing. We would chat for a few minutes: he leaning against the garbage can with his “Anything helps” sign, me on my crutches; he would never ask for anything.

Today, as I got off the train and walked to work, I again stopped to say hi and ask how he was. I know winter is awful for those who live outside. It’s been a rough week he said. Food poisoning, delays on getting his food stamps, unable to get enough money to cover both bus fare and daily needs. And it’s cold. It snowed today. I looked at him and mentioned that he seemed nice and warm bundled up in a lot of layers.

“There’s only so many clothes you can put on,” he replied.

Despite two or three hoodies and a jacket, he was still freezing, his face red from the chill, cutting wind.

You cannot put on enough clothes to stay warm.

After another minute of, now awkward on my part, conversation I went inside the building where I work a well-paid job, ducked into the gym office workers have access to so I could take a hot shower (having just come from physical therapy), and happily noticed that there were brand new, thick, soft towels.

As I felt the plushness of the towel I remembered Brian, whom I’d only seen 30 seconds ago, still outside freezing. My own face flushed at the self-centeredness of my towel pleasure. The contrast of our situations – my privilege, his lack – and that I’d so soon forgotten his hardship in the face of my stupid luxury.

I’m not a bad person. I at least thought about it and saw the injustice. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

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