Old man and the coat

Rick Ryckeley's picture

The tattered coat was crumpled on the park bench with an old man wrapped inside. His hatless head was matted by dirty, disheveled hair streaked silver and gray. Gnarly fingers pulled the brown coat tighter in a vain attempt to ward off the bite of the November wind.

The temperature had dropped into the 20s the night before, and the cold was now in a bitter fight with the sun for conquest of the gray day.

The wind swirled around the buildings and swooped into the park, looking for uncovered skin to claim for its own. The sockless man shivered when the wind found him once again as it had done all night long. He occupied one of the few benches in the park and was asked by some to move, but all inquiries were answered with unintelligible grunts and moans.

In recent years, by no fault of his own, he had become more of an inconvenience than a person. It was noontime in the downtown, and he was barely noticed by the passing crowd of hungry lunch goers.

Time and circumstance had etched its way into his tanned face many years ago, and as I gave my hat and scarf to him, a sigh of thanks floated up with a moan draped over it. The brown coat turned and faced the back of the bench once again in hopes that the wooden slats would help to shield from the wind. They did not.

This old man is unaware the stock market lost 30 percent of its value last month – he has no stock portfolio. The collapses of the subprime mortgages and the devaluation of homes is not a concern of his because he has no home.

The global economy is on the brink of disaster, and yet he is only worried about staying warm and filling his empty stomach. He doesn’t even know about the historic national election. He has no wife, no children and no friends. All of his dreams long ago turned into nightmares. A gust of wind comes and the hat is pulled down over his ears, thinning hair curling out from underneath. The world has forgotten him.

Suddenly, I stop my walk in the park and realize that in a few weeks it’ll be Thanksgiving and The Wife and I are truly blessed. We have a warm home, plenty of food and clothes, and after 12 years, we’re still madly in love.

To the old man on the park bench, to have just one of those things would truly be a thankful day.

I head to the nearest clothing store and buy a new coat, gloves and sleeping bag. Unfortunately, when I return to the park, the old man is gone.

This year instead of giving gifts for the holiday, donate to the homeless shelter. If not, then clean out the closet and donate some winter clothes and blankets. And if you have nothing else but time, then donate it at the local soup kitchen or church.

This winter more than ever, the less fortunate need our help. And like the old man who was no longer asleep on the bench, their time is running out.

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