Day in and day out — for years, he came into our kitchen holding a can of soup, slowly opening it and then eating it directly out of the container, cold.
At first, we would ask, “Richard, why don’t you let us heat that up for you?” to which he would reply, “No, no, this will do.” Eventually, we resigned ourselves to simply handing him the can opener — seemingly the only assistance he would receive.
He sleeps in his van; it is dark and dank and has a small hole that he drilled in just above the right wheel well so he can pee at night.
Sometimes in the morning, after he shuffles from the street through our door, he turns to greet us and we notice that the night didn’t go so well: His pants are soiled again, and yet somehow he manages a slight smile. Other times, he almost jogs in, leaning straight toward the bathroom but not able to make it before a substance begins to run down his leg. Sometimes he notices; sometimes not.
We got in the habit of having a clean pair of sweats at the ready, but most often he refused them, saying, “What difference does it make?”
This will do.
What difference does it make?
Years later, Richard shuffles in and asks for his mail…
After two years of filing it away, the pile I hand him is thick and stacks high, up to his chin. He sits at a table and thumbs through the heap until he pulls out one. His hands shake as he fumbles to open the envelope and unfold the handwritten note within. Minutes pass until he proudly holds up a photograph and loudly proclaims, “This is my eldest son! He is studying physics!”
He then looks down again, saying, “I am going to read this note another time.” He hands me his can of soup and asks, “Would you mind heating this up?”
As if he had said it a million times before.
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Sparrow Etter Carlson is a co-founder of Aurora Commons and founder of Our Sacred Streets.
Read more of the May 24-30, 2023 issue.