Friday, December 30, 2011

The Tale of Puffyman

This last blog post of 2011 is The Tale of Puffyman, a morality story with an unsatisfying ending. 

As has been previously mentioned in this blog, downtown Denver has a very visible, significant homeless population.  Recently, I heard on the radio that there are 11,000 homeless in Denver.  Of course, this is a group that must be very difficult to count as they don't have a reliable place to stay so I question how accurate that number is. Honestly, it seems like there are much more.  On any given day (sunshine or snow, broiling heat or frigid below zero temps), there is a person with a cardboard sign on every corner.

Because the Denver homeless problem is so obvious, for about the last six months, I've been volunteering at a full-service day shelter for homeless women called The Gathering Place.  I'm tutoring in the GED program and have gotten to know some women in the program who I greatly admire for trying to improve their situations.  But, I digress, as this is the tale of Puffyman.

About a block away from our apartment, there is a little pocket park wedged next to a busy street and Cherry Creek.  Every single day for the entire first year that we lived here, a man would sit in this tiny park all day long.  Depending on the weather, he would wear various layers of coats.  Of course, on the cold winter days, he would wear every coat he had, making him appear that he was quite big.  When he was in full winter regalia, he resembled the stay-puff marshmallow man, so we started to refer to him as Puffyman or, sometimes, Puffy for short.  

I would see Puffy sitting in his little park as I walked or drove by.  Usually, he looked like he was sleeping, but sometimes I'd see him reading a paperback book or eating.  He never had a sign or seemed the least bit interested in soliciting donations.  I often wondered how he took care of his basic needs as he never seemed to leave the park during the day.  How did he ever clean himself up?  Where did his food come from? When and how did he use the bathroom?  At night, he would disappear but we would sometimes see him on a bench in front of our bank, a few blocks away from his daytime gig.

Puffy was always alone.  In all of my Puffy sightings, I never saw anyone with him.  I would think about what a sad, lonely existence he had but never actually thought about approaching him or trying to offer some help.  To be perfectly honest, he looked kind of weird and I'm not sure how he would have smelled up close.  So I kept my distance.

Then, one day this month, after watching Puffy for an entire year, he disappeared from his little park.  I worried about him.  Was he still alive?  Was he in a hospital somewhere?  I felt guilty that after all of those days of seeing Puffy, I never showed him any humanity.  Weeks went by Puffy-less and I felt even worse that I had never tried to help him, never even approached him.  I vowed to be a better person in the future.

But one day earlier this week, as I drove by Puffy's park, there he was in a new camouflage outer coat, sitting where he always sat.  Did I jump out of the car, run to Puffy, give him a hug and tell him I missed him, and ask how I could help him?  No, I did not.  I did what I had done so many times before, just went on by, noting his presence but nothing more.  He still seemed pretty weird and a bit outside my comfort zone so, feeling much more guilty than before, I still didn't act the way I should.

So here's to a new year of 2012 where I hope we will all be filled with compassion for our fellow humans.  Maybe this will be the year that I get to know Puffy, but then again maybe not.

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