All I have is thank you.

          I met her one morning at around 6am. She was like an angel, although I can’t remember the details of her face or appearance. I don’t even remember her name, I just remember her as an angel. I remember the moment, the feeling, like it was yesterday. It’s funny how 20 years can feel like yesterday.

          I was sitting in a strip mall near the beach in San Diego. It was pouring rain and I was freezing cold. I was just waiting for the sun to rise up, hoping it would clear the rain and warm my bones a bit. Underneath an overhang, just waiting, freezing, shivering, and smoking cigarette butts I had pulled out of an ashtray somewhere. I had no money. Only the clothes I was wearing. I had been homeless for a few months at this point. I was just a kid trying to make his way, with no understanding of what that even meant.

          So when she asked how I was doing that morning, I told her I was doing fine. Not because I was, but because she caught me off guard. Concern for my well-being was not something that happened, ever. Sure, people would give me change sometimes, but they’d rarely glance into my eyes. If our gazes met, they’d be quick to look away, as if I was something to be ashamed of or to take pity on. I can understand why people felt this way and I never held it against them; I was almost always smiling, doing my best to carry with me a smile.

          I can’t remember what I was thinking that morning when she walked up and asked me how I was doing. When she asked if I was hungry, there was no hint of the usual judgment or pity, only compassion. She was looking at me with empathy. I could tell she genuinely cared.  I guess she was in her late 70s or early 80s. She had slight build; even though she was in the later years of her life, she carried herself with a lightness and grace that belied her age. Her hair was gray - but beautiful - and I could tell just by speaking with her, she had lived a good life. I could tell immediately she was content. Whatever happened throughout her life, she was okay with it; she owned it. It was so beautiful. She was so beautiful.       

          She asked me my name and told me hers. We spoke briefly about nothing specific - just small talk - which at that moment made me feel more human than I’d felt in months. After a few moments she pulled out some bills and handed them to me. “This is for you to eat.” I’d like to say I turned it down, that I could honestly say “I don’t need this.” But I did need it. I was famished. I looked at her and said thank you, with all the sincerity I could muster.  The entire interaction lasted only a few minutes. She walked into my life and out of it in such a brief amount of time, but since that day I have thought about her maybe a thousand times. I swore to myself that morning many years ago, that I would never forget her, and I never have. Her name was Rosie…I think.  

          I wish I knew where she was today, if she is still alive even. I would find her just to tell her thank you. I would tell her I love her, because through her compassion she showed me what love is. I would tell her that I was invited to the White House next month, and I am going. Thank you for not looking at me as another lost homeless kid, but only as a person that needed something more than food. When I go to DC next month Rosie, you and your memory will be with me (as they always are). All I can really give back to you all these years later is a thank you.