I Passed The Same Man Every Day, And I Regret Not Stopping Sooner

by Ryann Roberts
Roland Grgoebe / EyeEm/Getty

I saw him every morning on my drive to work. Little old man, hunched over in a wheel chair, on the side of a busy street, adjacent to the Veterans Hospital. He became a part of my morning routine—guzzle coffee, bribe my kid to get dressed and get to school, see my “friend” on the way to work. Some mornings, if traffic was backed up, I would watch him until our eyes met and then I would smile and wave. He never acknowledged me.

Our one-sided “friendship” began in the spring. As the summer fled and the Chicago days became colder, I began to worry. My friend didn’t have any shoes. His feet, which were hugely swollen, were always bare, exposed to the elements.

One particularly frigid morning, I noticed he had new bandages. Fresh, white gauze was wrapped tightly around his feet, covering his toes and making its way up his ankles. Morning after morning, I saw the gauze become dirtier and dirtier. The once pristine white was now grimy, caked with city grit. The dirtier the gauze got, the more my heart ached. I had to do something.

Boots? That seemed like a practical idea, but how would I know his size? Would they be comfortable on his swollen feet? A quick Amazon search yielded the perfect solution (doesn’t it always?). Waterproof, down-filled booties apparently used for camping. Click! Ordered.

As I waited for them to arrive, I agonized over my decision. Was this appropriate? Would I insult him? Would he see some woman in a Range Rover pull up and tell me to eff off?

I have always been taught to give when the moment stirs me—when I feel the urge. Keep ego out of it; just trust my gut. Prepped and ready, I put the booties on the seat next to me and drove to work expecting to see him. But I didn’t. The next day, he wasn’t there. The day after that, nothing.

Three weeks went by before I saw him again. There he was, in a beat up wheel chair, blanket covering his legs, a light snow falling. I pulled over. Choosing to trust myself, my instincts, I grabbed the booties and got out of the car.

“Good morning, Sir.” No response. “Sir, I have something that you might find helpful.” I held the booties out in front of me. He looked over and pushed his blanket to the side. Where his feet used to be—nothing. Beneath his blanket were two freshly bandaged stumps.

Now, I know you’re thinking this can’t possibly be true, but it is. I swear! I even have a corroborating witness. I would give you her name but she is wrangling three kids of her own and probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

“Diabetes, man. I had to get them amputated weeks ago.” I felt foolish, I was too late. “Can I keep the booties?” he asked.

“Uhhh, yeah, of course,” I said as I handed them over.

“I’m gonna put them on the counter at my house and every day I’m gonna look at them and I will know somebody cares.”

I smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”

I learned an important lesson that day. Sometimes reaching out, giving, helping another, can feel awkward, uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Sometimes the gifts you give go far beyond their material use or value. Sometimes a pair of insulated booties are just what it takes to make another person feel valued, loved, and important. Sometimes, if you get lucky, you are able to give exactly what a person needs most.

Best thirty bucks I’ve ever spent.