Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 13, 2009

A Regret

I mentioned yesterday how cold it has been this past month and whenever we get into a severe cold snap like this I get nervous. What if the electricity goes off? What if the car breaks down? Normal scenarios can get dangerous when you’re dealing with temperatures that can kill and my mother instinct kicks into overdrive and I tend to worry.

I worry if the kids are warm enough at school, I worry that Grace is being a teenager and not wearing her hat and mittens and I worry about the people who aren’t fortunate enough to have a home.

Anchorage has it’s share of homelessness–I wrote about it last year when an acquaintance of ours had a deliriously drunk homeless woman wander into their home at night–and whenever we have weather like this I can’t help but think about the people out suffering the most. Actually I try not to think about it much because the thought of any human trying to survive in this weather is too horrible to contemplate, all that mother-worry overwhelms me.

Last week I needed to do some grocery shopping. I’d put it off for days to avoid going out but I finally grabbed an hour on Thursday to run and get what we needed. By the time I got to the store it was getting crowded with afternoon shoppers and as I zoomed through the aisles to beat the rush I turned a corner and saw a man fingering a can of baked beans on the shelf. He was scraggly and rough and if he hadn’t had a cart with him I would have sworn he was homeless (this is Alaska after all and scraggly beards and torn jeans are a dime a dozen).

As I saw him standing there the thought brushed through that I wondered if he needed any help.

But then just as quickly came the thought “What business is it of yours? Just because the man looks a little shabby doesn’t mean he’s homeless, why would he be so far south from the shelters and why would he have a cart if he were just hiding out from the cold?”

So I kept going, not wanting to offend him by assuming he could use some cash. Obviously things were fine if he was buying groceries, right?

I whipped through the rest of my shopping and checked out then as I was pushing my cart back to the entrance and out to the car I saw the man again. He didn’t have any cart, hadn’t bought anything, and he was just wandering around looking at things so I couldn’t help but admit that he really must be homeless. The thought again can to me to wonder if he needed any help.

But I was in a hurry to get home to my warm house and I was embarrassed to confront him. I didn’t know exactly what to say and didn’t know how he’d respond. It’s all very stupid, I have been in those situations before and somehow managed to say the right thing but this time I pushed on by and said nothing.

I loaded up the groceries and headed home before feeling that horrible, sinking feeling of guilt that I’d missed my chance. All the things that I could have done–taken him to the deli counter, given him some of my food, offered him a kind word–came into my head as I realized that I’d messed up. It’s not as if I could have wiped out homelessness in Anchorage or even changed this man’s life but it didn’t matter. That one person needed help and I’d been too busy.

Going about the rest of my evening chores and getting ready for bed I tried not to think about it but that night, as is commonly the case, I began to wind down and review my day before going to sleep and I couldn’t help but see the man’s face and know that while I certainly couldn’t have solved all his problems the least I could have done was to offer him a bit of kindness and humanity.

It made it hard to sleep and I still feel embarrassed at my behavior but it made me think that I’m sure it won’t be the last time I see someone who could use some help and even though I didn’t make the best choice next time I plan to be a little braver and kinder and not so rushed.

I don’t want to live a life filled with regrets for what I could have done, even with very small acts.


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