I mean, really met a homeless man. I didn't just pass by him on the street, or hand him a few coins.
I stood behind him in line at the library as he asked if he could apply for a library card. The librarian handed him an application. He looked at it for a moment and said, "I can't read or write. Could you help me fill it out?"
The librarian replied that they were not allowed to do that.
He looked around him for a moment, sighed, and said, "Well, okay. Maybe I can find someone."
My kids were waiting back in the children's section with their dad, probably making him read the same terrible board book over and over. I knew Max was tired. We had plans to go to Hobby Lobby and the zoo. But I couldn't ignore him.
"I can help you fill that out when I'm done."
He smiled and said thank you. I felt a little awkward paying my fines, pulling out a twenty. He never asked for a cent. The librarian told me we were still missing a book. I sighed and explained how we were in the process of moving from one house to another.
The man, eager to be of help I think, made sure that we were completely moved in and didn't need help. He asked two or three times if we needed anymore help. I assured him that we were fine, just a little scattered still. He talked about how wonderful it was that I was getting so many interesting-looking books for my kids, and how it probably helped them fall asleep. Then he joked about not giving them any sugar or they'll run crazy. I informed him that I have a son who runs crazy without sugar.
We sat down together at a table, and he gave me his ID card. That's how I found out his first name, Robert, like my husbands. About 60 years old. Mailing address: General Delivery. No home address. No phone number. No e-mail address.
All I could think was "No wonder this man is homeless. He can't read or write. How can one function at all in society without those two skills." Then my thoughts went to wondering what his story was. Had public school failed him? Did he have a learning disability that went undiagnosed fifty years ago? How does one not know how to read or write?
But all over in the library were signs to volunteer to teach people to read. Apparently it is a real need where we live. And all of a sudden I understood what a life- changing service that was. My ideas about volunteering in NICU's and soup kitchens disappeared. If I really want to make a difference, and I do, this is where I can be of most help. This is something that can create real change in a person's life.
After I filled out the paper, we came to the signature part. I asked if he wanted to sign or have me sign. He said that he would sign. I watched him slowly put the pen to paper, and carefully move his pen to form the most beautiful, perfect, cursive letters. It was probably the only thing he could write. This was not a scribbled signature. He took such care, that it was evident to see just how precious those few letters were to him.
I complimented him on his handwriting, gave him the application and stood up. He wished me luck with the baby, and that was it. Our brief encounter was over. It only lasted a few minutes, but I can't stop thinking about him.
I think that's part of being a mother, caring for people, nurturing them, loving them. Even when they're not your children. Even when they may be old enough to be your grandparents. Everyone is somebody's child. Everyone needs a little mothering every now and then.