Across the weedy, trash-strewn alley from my work place is a motel, one of those places that was cute in the Sixties, an L-shaped building segmented into small units. Now people live in those tiny places long-term. The Home Oxygen guy drives in each week, and it's within spitting distance of the Mental Health Center across the street. One guy even lives in a motor home on the lot. The windows are propped open with fans in the summer, shut in the winter - but not shut tight, not with peeling paint exposing the frames, not with the wind rattling the unprotected panes. There's an old man who lives there, who comes out on an irregular basis. This March I got really afraid for him. The wind pushed me along with enough force I had to plant my legs to stay upright. Here he came up the street, on a bitter morning, against the wind. I can't say he walked up the street. He more quavered, he shook up the street. When Olivia was five months old she could not crawl, but she managed to move herself by sheer willpower. She moved every muscle in her body over and over until she was in a different spot. That's what this man was doing, putting everything he had into the next faltering step, on staying vertical when the wind and the ice conspired to flatten him. The wind blew his hair around, long strands of white combover flying around his head, exposing the skin on top. He wore a dark cloth coat, cloth pants, those man-type shoes all guys his age wear - black, rounded toe, slight heel, vibram sole, and no gloves. I don't automatically offer help when I see someone is struggling. I stay on the scene and make myself available until they ask - sometimes it's an assault on human dignity to offer help too quickly. People sometimes just need time. But this man seemed to need help. I watched for a while. He didn't go down. He didn't move more than half a block in ten minutes, either. Finally, my hands were cold and my conscience burning. I went across the street and asked. Would he like help? No, he wouldn't. He would be fine, he said. His eyes were not angry, but they were determined. He would manage on his own. So I went inside and said a prayer at my desk. I didn't see him again and I wondered how he was faring. I wondered what was so important he had to go out in THAT weather?
Two weeks ago, I saw him again, coming around the corner, with his head up, moving towards home, face set in the neutral expression of kings. He made it through the winter.