On veteran’s day, which also happened to be the same day that brought the first noticeable winter chill, I saw an elderly gentleman lecturing a garbage can emphatically, with an index finger – as leaves swirled about his feet. Then he began to make obsessive sweeping motions with his hands, and I couldn’t look away. I kept staring from the window of a warm and cozy coffee shop that smelled of freshly roasted beans. I looked at this man, I mean; I really looked at this man. He had white wispy hair, and his frame was bent and worn, but it was apparent that he had been tall and strong at an earlier point in life. I wondered if he were a veteran; he could have been a veteran. He may have had children; he certainly must have had parents.
I wished that he were a dog. If he were a dog, tattered and helpless at the bus stop on a blustery, chilly day he may have been rescued. Passersby may have put him in their car, or brought him home for a meal and a warm rug to sleep on, or a shelter. Someone may have put him in a place where his hair wouldn’t blow in the wind, along with the leaves at his feet, and they may have even put an ad in the paper or a flyer on a telephone pole with his picture on it.
We’re not trained mental health professionals. It isn’t safe. It won’t help in the long run. I didn’t look away when I felt tears threatening to mess up my contact lenses, and when I knew I didn’t want to cry. But I looked away when I walked out the door and turned to go home.