Working with the homeless population in Philadelphia PA from 2009 - 2010 was a most enlightening and enriching experience. I met some remarkable individuals who touched my heart and taught me valuable life lessons.
I first met Charlie (name changed for privacy), 68-years-of-age, sitting on a bench at Love Park in Philadelphia. The name sounds quite beautiful. In some ways, this is a loving place to be, in 'the City of Brotherly Love'. In other ways, it can be quite scary. Charlie had a rough life, the kind of life where nice things didn't happen very often at all.
At Love Park, one can find the homeless, living singular existences, just stopping to rest or sleep for awhile on a park bench. You will also find decent people having lunch, even altruistic people sharing their bounty with the person less fortunate.
Another type of person would meet Charlie on more than one occasion at Love Park. This person assaulted, robbed and disrespected a kind, decent and innocent man. Yes, Love Park attracted a great variety of individuals.
Charlie lived a transient life. He slept under a major interstate that I traveled daily to work by car. The sight of this huddled man with his life possessions packed in several plastic Hefty bags made morning mascara less important as the days wore on.
Our Outreach Team approached Charlie as one would a frightened kitten. He was a gentle giant standing at 6 feet, 2 inches. At first, we sat with him on the bench, offering him some cold water. It was the heat of the summer at the time, about 100F degrees.
After some time, Charlie allowed us to drive him back to our office. Trust-building would be slow going but I knew that on this particular day the Podiatrist was scheduled for his monthly office visit.
Can you imagine the wear and tear on a person's feet if you are on the streets all day?
The realist in me would be happy to give him a good meal and a clean pair of socks. The dreamer in me wanted him to get an excellent foot exam and care.
Our Podiatrist had a gruff, 'old school' demeanor which I feared would make Charlie anxious. He never wanted to be a bother. He agreed to see the doctor as a favor to me. He wanted to make me happy but he was terrified to take his shoes off as they symbolized his security and safety as he walked through life.
Image via JoelHuegli of Pixabay. Click here to visit his gallery.
This day, however, the Podiatrist was running late. As I looked up, several moments later, Dr. O introduced himself to both Charlie and me. Assigned to the clinic as a last-minute replacement for our ailing Podiatrist, I felt a rush of peacefulness enter the examination room along with this young, compassionate man with eyes that looked into my soul.
I saw Charlie instantly connecting with Dr. O., and it was a sight to see! It truly brought tears to my eyes as I watched a miraculous change in take place in Charlie’s personality.
Charlie opened up about his days on the road, when he was in his twenties. He had been a drummer in a blues band. He loved Muddy Waters, his favorite, rattling off so many other musicians I could barely keep track. This guy was into the blues! He was astonishingly funny, charming and I was reminded of one of Mom's favorite expressions, "still waters run deep."
Charlie's life on the road was an ironic prelude to the journey of his life. Struggles with alcohol and months away from home at a time led to the disintegration of his marriage and ultimate life on the streets in a much different manner.
Dr. O was able to draw this information out of Charlie over the course of an hour. All the while he was adept and attentive with his work on Charlie's neglected feet.
The next week our regular Podiatrist came back to work. I never ran into Dr. O again. I indeed believe he was Charlie's angel.
Until next month, be happy and inspired.
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