The Winter Solstice? The frigid temperatures? The first snowflake? The howling wind?
When does winter truly begin for you?
For me, it begun on January 10, when there seemed an endless supply of falling snow which the wind was intent on blowing in my face. I tread on light feet lest I slip on ice (the child of freezing rain and colder temperatures), but little did I know that that would be the least of my worries that night.
Walking home with thoughts of warm food and blankets near midnight, I was passing by a bus stop on a Sunday when I heard a man calling out, “Excuse me, ma’am!”
As we were the only two people there and he was looking right at me, I naturally stopped on the sidewalk to see what he had to say to me.
With chattering teeth, he asked, “Do you know where I can get a sweater or something from to wear right now?”
It was then that I noticed, upon further examination, that the poor bloke was shivering from the cold. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties and for some reason that I could not fathom, he was wearing a spring jacket. With one earphone dangling, hunched over, and shivering, it seemed that he was waiting for the next bus to arrive. The thing is, I was almost certain that the buses had already stopped running for the night.
As it was, I could think of no nearby place that would be open for him to buy a sweater from, try as I might, and I told him as such.
“But…you live nearby; don’t you have an old sweater or something that I could take?”
The fact was, I had suddenly been accepted to the winter semester of the program I had applied to and had rushed over from another city to attend classes and miss as little as possible…What this meant was that I was temporarily at my sister’s mercy, living with her and wearing her clothes until I could go back home and pack my belongings.
So in regards to his question, I truthfully answered, “I’m sorry but I don’t…I just started school and am just temporarily living with someone who lives in this area.”
At this point, I guess he decided that talking to me was a waste of his energy that could better be used to preserve his body heat because he turned away from me and gazed at the cars passing us by. I, too, decided to go on my merry way whilst hoping that he would be out of the cold and warm soon enough. Just to make sure that this was the case however, I asked him if he had a place to stay the night. He didn’t give me a clear response but as it was clear that my presence was no longer welcome, I begun trodding home once more.
Along this tedious journey to my sister’s house, I could not shake the image of that shivering stranger and my mind was plagued of thoughts of how I could have helped him instead. I could have paid for his cab or I could have given him money to buy something and be out of the cold at that convenience store nearby or…
As my mind churned over what I could have done to help that stranger after the fact (such is the mind of an introvert), a new thought occurred to me that left me even more dejected than before: I had just walked away from one of God’s children. Before, I had been pondering why I had not taken the other route home and why I always seemed to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Now, I wondered if this encounter was no coincidence at all. What if that stranger had been God himself in his many forms? In my infinite wisdom, I had not only failed myself by walking away, I had failed Him (which is infinitely worse).
It was then that I decided to try and find a sweater that my sister wouldn’t miss much to give to him. As only a couple of minutes had elapsed, I hurried home and frantically began searching through my sister’s mess of a room for something, anything to give to this stranger. As he only seemed to need something temporarily, I found an old, large blue hoodie, put it in a plastic bag, and proceeded to call my sister. She didn’t pick up. Again, I called. Again, she didn’t pick up. I hadn’t wanted to take anything of hers without her permission but then I thought, consequences be damned for time is of the essence!
Just as I was shutting her room door though, my sister called me back. I rushed out of the house whilst explaining the circumstances to her. After a brief conversation, I hung up the phone thanking the heavens that she was just as social justice-oriented as I was. Hurrying to the bus stop, I felt high-spirited yet anxious. Only ten minutes had passed but what if he was no longer there? I hadn’t told him I was coming back, after all.
Alas, much to my chagrin, only the biting wind greeted me at my destination. I had been too late. What now? Had he caught the last bus of the day? Had he walked elsewhere in search of help? Was he warm wherever he was? Was he nearby, and if so, could I still catch up to him?
After walking up and down a portion of the street on both directions, I realized that my efforts were futile: he was gone. He had vanished just as surely as I had disappointed myself and Him. Feeling cold and lost, I made my way back home just thinking that if I was this cold now, how cold must he have been earlier? Maybe staying out in the cold searching for him was my punishment. All I could do now was pray and hope that he was safe and warm wherever he was.
Swallowing back tears as I trudged home with my head down, I realized how inconsequential my resolutions for the New Year truly were. I had only been thinking about myself instead of what I had to offer the world. Sniffling, I pleaded with God for forgiveness and I prayed. I prayed for the stranger I had been unable to help. I prayed that next time, I would be able to look beyond my own circumstances and give the very jacket that I was wearing to my fellow human being if need be. But most importantly, I prayed to be kinder with each passing day.