I can’t stop thinking about the man with the bike. I passed him last night as I walked along the harbor in San Diego. He was not the first homeless man I had seen during the evening. There had been dozens. I suppose San Diego’s mild climate makes it a favorable place for those who must shelter out of doors. But it was the bicycle that arrested my attention.
Presumably, all that he possessed was contained there. Everything was thoughtfully arranged and strapped with great care. Flattened two liter bottles were pressed against the outside and I wondered if this was how he collected water. And where he found it. But, mostly I wondered, “How does he decide what goes on the bike?”
How would I?
I thought of homeless men I have sat at table with. Men who are part of the Room in the Inn program in Nashville. Of how ordinary they are. I recollected just how few things have to go wrong for someone to end up on the street. Why him? Why not me?
And if it were me, what would I try to keep with me?
If I could…
My grandmother’s quilt lovingly stitched during the cold months of winter? Photo albums that tell all our stories? They would be too heavy. I would have to pull the photos from their pages; maybe pack them in a plastic bag to protect them from the rain. What of the tiny clothes I sewed for my babies? They would be impractical. But how to give them away?
I did not speak to the man. It was late. I was alone. But I have not been able to stop thinking about him. Imagining him once swaddled and kissed by a happy mother, running with the carefree abandon of a little boy, dreaming dreams of the future. Maybe even as a young father cradling his newborn son. And now he sits, nodding, on a bench by the sea. All that is left to him makes two small bundles on a bicycle.
And I don’t know what to do with that.