If I am fortunate enough to be spared the ravages of Alzheimer’s in my last years, I will remember the events of the next few days always. We live in an amazing time. History is being made, and I can sense it in the very air around me.
This morning I watched the first legs of President-elect Obama’s train rally from Pennsylvania to Washington. It was good to see him standing tall and smiling as he and Joe Biden waved from the back of the train to throngs of people who waited at the station, but it wasn’t he who inspired me today. Today I was moved to tears by the faces of all those people, young and old, black and white, bundled up in hats and coats and waiting for hours to share one brief moment of hope and promise.
Journalists on the train reported passing through rural areas, places where there was no obvious sign of habitation, only to spot one person standing by the edge of the woods or two on a barely visible rooftop, waiting for the train to pass. Those people waited for nothing more than to experience this moment today and share it with their children and grandchildren through all their tomorrows.
Near noon, I rode into Baton Rouge with my daughter to take Lucy and Winston to the groomer. At the exit ramp where we left the interstate, a familiar figure sat on the grass to our left. He’s a thirty-something white man, shabby but not desperate looking, who has been somewhere near that underpass nearly every time I’ve been to Baton Rouge in the past year. Whenever I see the man, I also see his big, brown dog, the faithful companion who stays so close beside him that some part of the dog always touches some part of the man.
The man keeps long hours in his open-air workplace, displaying the kind of hard work and dedication that would earn him a good living if he were to apply the same effort in the business world. I don’t know his circumstances. I won’t judge him.
My daughter and I waited in the right-hand lane to make our turn. In the left-hand lane, nearest the man with the dog, a late-model SUV pulled up to the red light and stopped. In the next instant, our attention was diverted by someone running past us.
The driver of the SUV had left her vehicle with the door wide open and was running in high heels back toward the man. We couldn’t see her face, but she seemed to be a young person. She was nicely dressed and had long, straight black hair and skin the shade of brown that made me think she might be of Hispanic or middle-eastern origin.
When she reached the man, she handed him some money, but she didn’t do it in an impersonal way. She stopped and petted the dog, then reached out and hugged the man before she ran back to her car as the light changed.
High as I still was on the passion of all those people on TV who waited for a glimpse of Barack Obama, I burst into tears again. I wish that young woman knew how much she moved us today, not by her donation to the homeless man, but by her acknowledgment of his humanity.
The new administration has requested that Americans consider Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of national service. I love to think about how much we can accomplish as a nation when we all work together. There's even a website (www.volunteermatch.org) to help us locate agences in our own communities who can use some help.
I checked out what’s available near my own zip code and found a few things even an older lady with bad knees might be able to do, but nothing I’m ready to commit to on a long-term basis. What I can do for this Monday, though, is go through my closet and pull out some of the perfectly good clothes I never wear (too small, mostly), clean them if they need it, pack them in the nice set of luggage I never use, box up a couple dozen hard-cover books that are taking up space, and drop off the whole kit and caboodle at the local Goodwill store. It may not reach the level of personal sacrifice a lot of people will make, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.