I’ve had the fortune to travel frequently. I say fortune because I have discovered that I really enjoy this unique diversion from routine. The change in scenery and environment is like witnessing the arrival of a best friend after a long absence. Training and “tours of duty” have taken my husband to various cities this year and I have had the grand opportunity to accompany him. The experience can be and has been a lonely one, however. While he has been away with the car and working, I have been left with the challenge of finding entertainment in a strange city. Long walks, photos, reading, writing, answering emails (when Internet is available), and exercising have made up most of my days. Recently, we visited Orlando, FL.
Our hotel was situated in the heart of downtown. With camera in hand, I began the usual task of exploring the city. After taking pictures of some wonderful architecture and manicured city streets, my adventures soon led me to the public library. I adore books, so I was happy to see this building appear around a corner. I was unprepared for what I saw inside.
The automatic doors opened and I walked into the cool air with the familiar and welcoming smell of books. I browsed the new releases on some tables and then studied the map of this old, three-story building. I walked up a flight of stairs, pulled some books from shelves, and then found a seat, enjoying the crack of a book’s spine as I opened the first one. Then I heard another sound—a terrible cough. It was low and deep and contagious. I looked around and noticed an unsavory character, leaning on one hand, clothes disheveled, and a decrepit backpack on the floor. Being the perpetual dreamer, I was glad to see that he was reading and imagined him finding a new passion in life that would take him off the streets. I went back to my reading.
Next, I was interrupted again by the sight of a policeman and a librarian quietly escorting another character out of the building. I began to really look around and wondered where the real patrons were…was I the only one on this floor? Later, I decided to find a more comfortable chair on another floor.
The next floor was set up for a book signing by Dara Torres, the 40-year-old Olympian, who was to appear later that month. There was a small stage and about 30 chairs stationed for her book talk. In the chairs, however, were seated about ten homeless men. They had that tell-tale exterior—one leg crossed, hands folded across the lap, head down. It was and is the appearance of someone who has been beaten down by life, has temporarily or not, lost a battle, given up, lost hope.
Walking back to my warm hotel room, I pondered with dismay my own struggles with employment, among other things. Consequently, I do not feel that far removed from their particular lot in life. It is a sad one and unsolvable. This community of the ignored is a constant reminder to us of how quickly the comforts of life can be taken away. Their appearance in “our world” is a nuisance, their clothing repulsive, but their message to us is loud and clear–be thankful.