This actually began many years ago, this man walked the streets constantly though he could barely walk. No matter what the weather, he was out walking. And in New York State, that can be brutal in winter or the heat of summer. I wondered where he slept at night. I was afraid he was homeless. I used to walk through town a lot back then and when ever I happened to pass him on the sidewalk I would smile and try to make eye contact with him. Sometimes I said hello. He would glance my way but quickly shift his eyes away. I knew he recognized me, but that was as far as it went.
Ten years went by and he never gave up, wearing his old raggity clothes he walked. If I missed seeing him around for a few days I would wonder if he was okay... by then I didn't walk as much, and I most often saw him as I passed by in my car. If he looked like he was having an especially hard day I would say a little prayer for him.
Then one day I was sitting at the park writing. I happened to glance around and saw him rummaging in a trash bin for cans to turn in for the deposit. I just happened to have put two large garbage bags full of cans in the back of my car that day to take to the recycle center. While he was busy sifting through refuse I quickly got the bags out of my car and put them by a nearby trash can for him to find. I went back to my writing near the pond as quickly as possible so that he wouldn't feel embarrased by what I'd done. I never turned to check on his progress for fear he would catch on if he saw me. I got the feeling that he was a proud man, who didn't want sympathy.
A few minutes later he came walking around the picnic table I was sitting at. He never slowed to talk, but finally after all those years he looked me right in the eyes, nodded his head and said thank you! It still makes me feel good to think about it.
After that I began carrying a bag of cans in my car. If I saw him walking in the vicinity of the park I would stop at the park on my way and leave the bag of cans next to the same trash can. I don't know if he ever actually found them, but if he did I hoped that he would wonder if it was me still thinking of him.
I never knew his name, but a couple of years later there was an article in the local newspaper. He had passed away. He had been a successful business man, but had gotten hit by a car those many years ago. He wasn't expected to live. But he did. They told him he would never walk again. But he did. He walked almost constantly, because he knew if he stopped for too long he would lose the ability to keep moving. He had sold his beautiful house and moved into a small room so that he had money to live on and added to his meager income by collecting cans in his daily travels. People had at times given him new warm clothes in the winter but he wouldn't wear them, he donated them to the salvation army and wore old clothes because they would have only gotten ruined by the weather he walked in so much. Other people needed new clothes worse than he did.
I had a great respect for him right from the beginning. It was obvious how determined he was, it took everything he had to walk walk like that. He had a great impact on me even before I knew his story. I would have liked to know him. Perhaps walk with him and talk a little. I could have learned even more about life and what is important from him. I think now, that I could have left him some clothes, a special treat or maybe just a note telling him what an inspiration he was to me along with the cans. I still think of him sometimes and miss seeing him around town. But then I suppose now his soul is at peace, I imagine that he is now pain free and able to relax in comfort...