Some weeks ago I was walking down Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington after a trip to the Westfield Shoppingtown that is usually referred to as Vancouver Mall. Walking down the sidewalk, a man approached me. This man was obviously living on the margins, being unshaven and dressed in a ragged army jacket. I forgot who addressed who first: I used to be much more compassionate, but I've been around enough homeless people who were antisocial to be wary. But whether I said hello or he said hello first, he asked for food. A lot of times a request for food is a lead-in to a request for money. I usually carry some type of food on my person, being a frequent traveler and a frequent shopper at The Dollar Tree, I usually have some little package of crackers and or cookies, however smashed up, stashed inside of one of my pockets. But that day I had nothing. I looked at this guy and could tell he was really quite hungry.
"All I have is a little parmesan cheese packet", I said, having recently gone to a Sbarro's Italian Eatery in the Mall food court.
"I'll take it" he said without hesitation, which let me know that he indeed was truly hungry. I fished it out of my bag and handed it to him. "I can put it on a cracker or something." He seemed happy with the little packet of parmesan cheese, a half ounce at most, that I had gotten for free. "I've been walking from Cougar, I'm hoping to get work with the carnival." (Cougar is 40 miles away from where we were: a place that seemed to be too distant to comprehend when I was a child, and as an adult who has traveled extensively, still seems to be in a little niche not described by normal geography: and a long way to walk on an empty stomach.)
And that was the end of our interaction. I hope my little packet of parmesan cheese served him well. It is a reminder to me, an always needed reminder, that our lives are full of innumerable tiny objects that we pick up and discard without much thought, things of no monetary value, things that can seem to be nothing but random clutter and nuisance, and things that can be close to a life saver for someone we might pass on the street.