For Ms. Idella

So 2 days ago, a dear friend of mine said “You know, you haven’t blogged in forever.  I checked.” It struck me as a super sweet sentiment that she cares.  I promised her I would blog last night.

Promise broken.

I’m blogging now, before I head to bed.

So, I started this blog 2 months ago.  It originally was titled “Heartbreak and Lullabies”.  

Originally, I started out talking about how I really love cruising the streets at night… on my bike that is. And when I say bike, I don’t mean a motorcycle, I mean a bicycle.  I’m a real biker.

The best thing about cruising the streets at night is that the city slowly settles into itself.  All the hustle and bustle dies down into the nightlife, and there’ s a lot you can tell about a city, or in Chicago’s case, a neighborhood, by its nightlife.

I especially enjoy rolling through the bar districts of the city, and watching the people.  I’m talking grade-A, 100% s**t show a good portion of the time. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad.  If you’ve ever been in a Bourbon Street-esque atmosphere, you know what I’m talking about.

One thing I especially don’t like about cruising the night streets however, is seeing all of the homeless people.

It astounds me that in the land of plenty, in this great big country full of decadence, and advantage, we have so many people who have fallen to the wayside…simply discarded.  It’s disheartening.

As I move down the streets, it just profoundly saddens me to see people sleeping in alleyways, and doorways, or sitting on benches, in parks.

Most profoundly, I am saddened when the homeless people in question are elderly.  Nothing breaks my heart more than to see someone who should be enjoying retirment…relaxing with their feet up, if they so chose, letting the years simply melt away.

But they’re not.  They’re scrounging for food, and money…and lest we not talk about all of the other things, like healthcare, warmth, safety.

These thoughts often cross my mind when riding at night because it is pretty much in your face.

So, from there, I planned on talking about a special encounter I had.

About a half mile from my job, there is a woman who sleeps on a bench, under a bus shelter.

She sleeps upright.  The bench isn’t big enough to lie down on.  The woman rests her head down on her chest, and sleeps.

I’m not exactly sure when I first noticed her, although I’m assuming it was once I began riding my bike in the city, which would’ve been about April.  As I began biking in that area at night, I noticed that once it got dark she would pop up on the bench.  She’d have a few bags with her, and her belongings sitting next to her on the bench.

Her name is Idella.  I know this because the night after I started this original post, I was able to meet and briefly talk with Idella.

I was down in the Loop with a friend.  We’d been walking around and out and about, and it was a hot night.  Like super humid hot.  Like the air was thick, and it just felt like it was pulling moisture out of your body by the moment.  After parting ways with my friend, I was biking through the city back to my car.

As I got to the West Loop, I rode by, and there was the old woman, as she always was, on the bench.  Resting I suppose.  Though I don’t think I could ever put an exact age on her, I would definitely say late 60’s or 70’s. Whenever I would see her, I would always wonder things like “does she have a family?  Where are they?  Do they know she’s on the street?”

So as I rode past her, I decided to make a stop.  I stopped at the 7-Eleven down the street. I went in, and grabbed a couple of Gatorades, a big bottle of water, 2 oranges and 2 bananas.  After that, I headed back to the bus stop  I parked my bike a bit away, and walked on over.  I made sure to make a wide berth so I was approaching the lady from the front.

“Excuse me ma’am.  I don’t want to disturb you.  It’s pretty hot tonight, so I thought I would grab you some drinks and some fruit.  Is that alright?”

“Oh…yes.  That’s alright with me if it’s alright with you.”

“Of course it is”, and I handed her the bag of refreshments.  I then introduced myself.  She responded by introducing herself, and we shook hands.

I asked her how she was doing this evening.

She went on to say she was doing fine.  She was having some pain in her neck and back.  I asked her if she’d seen a doctor about that, and she said yes. She mentioned the doctors name, and said that he was a very nice man.

As we talked, I got teary eyed. She had that grandmotherly voice.  She was as I mentioned an older woman, black, upon my first guess I would say she’d been homeless for a while.  I could just as easily pictured her sitting in a rocking chair in a retirement home, in front of a TV, smiling at me and telling me about her neck and back, and about the nice doctor that was helping her.

Sometimes you don’t know what to say.  After telling her that I hope she feels better soon, I mentioned that I often ride through the area, and that I would hopefully see her again soon.  She said that would be nice, and she thanked me again for the drinks.  I hoped that meeting would lead to some future dialogue.  Unfortunately in this world, I can’t help everyone.  I don’t have a cape, I’m not omnipotent or all powerful…but I really wanted to, in some way, help Ms. Idella.  Our paths had crossed, and reaching out to help someone else, if possible…isn’t that what we should be doing in this life?

I didn’t ride my bike the next few nights, or the following week or weekend.  So, 2 weeks later, I’m back on the streets, riding my bike. Friday evening, in the West Loop…and no Ms. Idella.

I remember thinking “that’s strange,” but I didn’t really give it much thought at that moment.

That night, with the drinks and conversation, was the last time I saw Ms. Idella.  I’d like to believe that maybe something happened that changed Ms. Idella’s fortune, and that she’s receiving the medical care she needed, and sleeping in a comfortable bed every night, and is around people who will offer her the comfort, and companionship, and sense of dignity that we all should enjoy in life.  But, my heart tells me otherwise.  My heart tells me that it’s very peculiar that she would suddenly stop sleeping on this bench.  My heart tells me that perhaps the hot weather got to her, or her failing health bested her.  My heart even tells me that she was living a long, hard life, and that maybe, bowing out is for the best.  I hate that the thought enters my mind.  It’s cold.  Cynical.  I don’t like being either.

Ms. Idella told me her full name that night.  I did google search it, looking for an obituary…but nothing came up.  I checked it with multiple spellings.  But would a news article even have her name in it? Would she be identified?  Or would she simply be an indigent woman found dead.  That thought…that’s the one that bothers me most of all.  That’s the one that tears me up most easily…that in this world of plenty, someone of unfortunate circumstances could literally die nameless.  That is the worth that we lay on some peoples heads…worthless.  Who needs a movie…there’s the real “Purge”.  Every time I drive by the bench, which is daily, for a few seconds, I wonder “Where are you Ms. Idella?”

So this is for you Ms. Idella, wherever you may be.  You are not forgotten.  You are in my mind, and thus in my heart, and regardless of if these words ever cross your ears or eyes, hopefully your spirit can feel, can sense that someone else cares about you, is thinking about you.  As Buddhists say, the light inside of me recognizes the light inside of you.

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