On a Wednesday afternoon in Brunswick, Maine, a man in need walked into my life.
I was at a dog training class in an old municipal building on Main Street. About six of us sat on gray carpeting with about six black labs. Working on sitting, staying, not biting. Just some ordinary things.
And in the middle of this ordinariness, a man walked in.
His beard, hair, clothes were unwashed. His eyes were large and wet. Barely contained.
“I need a bandaid.” His voice was thin, almost breakable.
None of us said anything. The man stood uncomfortably on the gray carpet. Then his almost breakable voice broke. And said in one long, desperate breath:
“I need a bandaid, I’m hurting, and I’m lonely, I don’t have anywhere to go, can someone please help me?, I’m cut, I don’t have any friends, I don’t know anyone in this town, I don’t know where to go, I’m hurt.”
He was crying now. The weight of what he was carrying made plain before us.
And I just sat there. Staring at the gray carpet. Utterly unprepared for this moment.
But life had given us this man. Even if we weren’t prepared for him. Didn’t ask for him.
As the man stood there, a woman named Phoebe pushed herself up off the carpet. She wore a thick wool cardigan covered in dog hair.
“I think,” Phoebe looked straight in the man’s big, wet eyes. “I think I have a bandaid.”
And from this man’s vast suffering, Phoebe pulled out one thing she could do. And did it.
She got a bandaid, some tissues from her purse. Gave both to him. Told him where the bathroom was. He thanked her. Then he left us. And life returned to ordinariness.
But not ordinariness like before. Because I’d seen how a person could respond to moments we didn’t prepare for. Seen how Phoebe rose on up into that moment. Maybe in compassion. Maybe in empathy. Maybe in recognition of some common humanity I’d forgotten.
She didn’t try to save, heal, fix this man. But for a moment in his life, Phoebe walked alongside him. As if it were just some ordinary thing.