The first time I saw him, I was walking towards the fancy-pants kitchen store to buy Christmas presents.  He was around twelve. He was the kind of boy that will someday grow into linebacker-sized muscle man, but for now is just a jovial, big-boned, baby-faced kid, all pudge and nervous energy.  He was with a woman that I guessed was his mother, though it hardly seemed possible.  She was tiny and slim, shorter than him already, and blonde where he was dark.  They looked nothing alike.  But they way they talked, joking with an underlayer of exasperation, was pure parent and child.

The three of us stood on the corner together, waiting for the light to change.  When it did, we crossed with caution.  That corner has a big problem with people turning right without looking for pedestrians. Sure enough, we had to skid out of the way of a car and the mother and I shared a polite, unifying complaint about it.  Then we went our separate ways.  I turned right across the bridge to go buy some specialty chocolates and they turned left towards the “Residents Only” door of the homeless shelter.

That’ll put a nice spin on your Christmas shopping.

A few weeks later, I was driving back into town after an evening meeting.  As I came down towards the light, that same light, I saw a large group of people walking towards me.  I recognized the kid immediately, his bulky but jaunty walk was pretty identifiable.  And there was his mother, right next to him again, walking with her arms wrapped around herself.  She was talking with a big man a few feet away.  As the group turned towards the shelter, the man reached out his hand.  He gently pushed the boy in the arm jokingly, then grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him in for a rough hug.  The boy wrapped his arm around his dad, and they walked in the shelter together.

That same kid. Twice in a month. That’s worth noticing, right?

I think it’s really easy to assume that people end up in shelters because of something they did.  Maybe they have an addiction problem, maybe they let debt spiral out of control, maybe they stopped taking their medications, maybe they made bad decision upon bad decision until they managed to lose everything.

I assume those things too.

But I’m hard-pressed to think about what a 12-year-old boy could do that would justify his presence in a homeless shelter.  I find it even harder to believe that any possible mistakes or bad decisions that his parents made were bad enough that they should be relegated to seeing their son through adolescence as transients.  If there were any mistakes or bad decisions.  These days, it seems, bad luck can be quite enough do people in.

Today I put my fifty bucks in an envelope with a note asking that it be forwarded to that family and I mailed it to the shelter.  I’m not kidding myself.  It’s not going to fix even one of their problems. But I hope they know I am cheering for them.  I hope it helps.

I hope I don’t see him again.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read here.