I wasn’t prepared for the message I received yesterday, and how it would infiltrate my peace and sanity and steal away my comfort.
I only met Don once. It was a bright and sunny day in Tampa, and I was in the company of an adorable five year old friend named Theo. Shane and I were out on the streets, giving away socks and snacks and hygiene supplies, and Theo’s family had joined us for the afternoon.
Zuzu immediately went to Don and sat down next to him. She didn’t leave his side for the next half hour. He let his hand rest in her fur as we talked to everyone else that was congregated in the small space outside the Salvation Army.
I was so impressed as I watched Theo’s mother comfortably encourage her son to give away socks. Many women feel that they need to protect their children from the houseless people on the street, but Lam Robbins understood the light that her child was bringing into this engagement. I photographed Theo as he gave, and when he latched onto Don, he asked me to capture the moment. “Take our picture!” he told me, even after the fourth image had been taken. I pressed the shutter again as Don smiled at the little boy.
Don couldn’t take his eyes off Theo. As the little boy ran from person to person, offering socks and saying hello, Don would chuckle every time Theo would ask the same person twice. The little boy didn’t care if everyone already had 2 pairs of socks, he wanted to give another! Don’s face lit up, and the smile never left.
Yesterday I got a message from Theo’s wonderful father, Ben. “We lost Mr. Don this week. 70 years old. Sick and alone on the sidewalk. In the richest country in the world.”
Read that again. ON THE SIDEWALK.
I don’t know what you’re doing as you read that. Maybe it gives you no pause. Maybe you’ll continue reading down the page and it won’t make you suck in your breath and choke on it. Maybe it won’t make the tears sting your eyes and your insides churn as you think about your father, your grandfather, at 70 years old, dying outside alone on the pavement beneath our feet. Someone who laughed, who smiled, who loved… Maybe you won’t care.
“Giving food is easy. Giving a damn is much harder.”
These words from Ben made me grateful that I know him. Grateful that he knew Don, and that Theo was able to know him too. I thanked God that someone knew to tell me, and simultaneously questioned if I truly wanted to know. I’m still not sure.
Today is Sunday, and today we celebrate Don’s life together. I’m posting this blog and these pictures in the hopes that you will remember him too…