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Woolen Kindness

The finest sweater I have ever had

By Robert AllenPublished 3 years ago 5 min read

It was about a half a year into my year and a half long stretch of homelessness and I was at my usual panhandling spot at the top of the off ramp at Ogden Ave. and the Eisenhower Expressway in the city of Chicago.

To lay claim to a steady money spot at a major location such as that was no easy task and to maintain it was also difficult. It had recently taken several days of leaving the House of Mary and Joseph -the shelter in which I was staying at -earlier than the five o'clock wake up time and getting down there before anyone else to then hold the position to the late arrivals who claimed that it was their spot became a sport almost. Blood was even spilled on one occasion when two men decided they would work together in an attempt to oust me. They failed miserably and to this day may still have the gaps where teeth should be and I too have a physical reminder of that battle.

My days were definitely not those that would come to mind if you thought about a hard working, somewhat well-read, caring person who found violence abhorrent. But that was my reality. Up every morning to the booming voice of sarcastic and mean spirited shelter operators who would have been better suited to be working in prisons than in shelters founded by caring Fransicans.

Good thing is that there were acts of kindness everywhere, even on my worst days when my mood was as black as a stormcloud and my spirit putrid and angry, there was goodness to be seen.

Day after day, regardless of the weather, I stood at the top of that off ramp with a sign that only requested a bit of help in the way of spare change. And day after day what must have been thousands of cars passed by, many pausing when possible to slightly lower their windows and pass me change or even folding money.

Acts of kindness everywhere, sprinkled unevenly, but nevertheless they did exist.

A young nurse from nearby Stroger Hospital - an ICU nurse according to her badge which hung from her rear view mirror on a lanyard - was regularly generous to me. Three to four times a week her blue Nissan rolled up the ramp and stayed in the left lane so that she could make the left turn towards the hospital.

For what must have been close to a month leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday she nearly never failed in handing me something, a dollar, a handful of change, a breakfast sandwich, and even when traffic would not allow her to stop she always honked the horn and waved with a smile that eased even the foulest and most self loathing of dispositions.

On Thanksgiving my daily routine would be slightly altered as there was of course a minimal amount of traffic and at least two places in the vicinity were set up to welcome those without a place to spend the holiday to go and have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, receive a care package, and have a moment of comfort and camaraderie. Still, I decided that to maintain my place, if only for a few hours, was necessary.

Her blue Nissan rolled up the ramp and she stopped short of the left lane and rolled the window down.

"Can you meet me over there?" she asked while pointing to the parking lot of Malcom X college.

I took my backpack from where it was hanging on the chain link fence and slung it over my shoulder before walking over to where she had already pulled into the lot and waited in her idling car.

She rolled the window down and asked if I would like to sit in the car and get warm. I walked around the front of the car and got in. The warm air blowing from the dashboard felt wonderful.

"There's a coffee if you want." she said while pointing to one of the two cup holders near the stick shift.

I took a sip of a coffee and looked over at her and tried to make idle conversation. It was then that I could see behind her sunglasses that her eye was blackened. I was going to ask but I did not, that is something I regret to this day.

At one point she reached behind her and took from the back seat a large paper grocery bag and handed it to me. Inside there was an envelope and a tupperware container that was heavy with a pasta meal. There was plastic cutlery taped to the top of the container. And there was a sweater. An extra large white cable woolen sweater with some expedition patches on it. I immediately slipped out of my jacket and hooded sweatshirt and pulled the sweater on.

"This is a beautiful sweater." I said.

Even though her eyes were covered by the sunglasses I could still see by the smile and shape of her face that she was pleased.

We sat in her car for over an hour and listened to music and drank our coffee while talking about everything other than my homelessness and the black eye she was concealing. For the first time in ages I did not feel invisible. I felt as though I were part of a society again.

I have had many wonderful holidays over the course of my life but that Thanksgiving will always be particularly special.

The kindness shown to me that day was and continues to be a serious reminder about giving and receiving, about human connection and about humility.

When I see an opportunity to do something kind for someone, even if it is just to wave, smile and say hello to those among us who may feel invisible, then I do so.

Of course that sweater helped me through an incredibly lonely period of my life. I navigated the icy streets of Chicago and the cruelties that lie in wait while wearing a sweater that not only kept me warm but served as a reminder that I was a human being and that I had value.

To this day it is the finest sweater I have ever worn.


About the Creator

Robert Allen

Mediocre author, amateur photographer and stay at home father.

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