There’s a New Sheriff in Town: Part 2, Frostbite

(This is the second of four somewhat-political posts, three from my inauguration experience and one from recent conversations with a Kenyan co-worker who lived near–and worked with–the President’s father.)

“How was it?” is everyone’s leading Inaugural question. And in my head, two answers compete. The first is “great.” I’ll never forget the sense of deliverance welling up from the crowd. It was intoxicating. But the second potential answer, the one that best describes the experience and may change me forever is this: cold. It was cold. Deathly cold.

My alarm went off at my relatives’ house at 3:00am. By 3:30, we were on our way, at the Metro station by 4:00, and on the National Mall by 5:00. By 5:15 though, standing there in two shirts, a sweater, a coat, shorts, jeans, two pairs of socks, boots, and a hat and gloves, all I could think was, “What have I done?”

It was nineteen degrees out, my feet were freezing, and the ceremony wouldn’t start for six and a half hours. You can distract yourself for a while–the kid without a coat, the travel stories, the sunrise. But pretty soon, even the coatless kid is bundled and thoughts shift to survival. “What am I doing here?” It was time for a walk.

I fought for the fringe, where I discovered clusters of people huddled around vending generators, siphoning the discharged heat. Lines of more than a hundred waited for hot coffee. Mobs formed around a heated coach bus, hoping for an opportunity to step inside. And through my numbness, God chiseled: “This is the plight of the homeless.”

I saw an ambulance carrying someone away. I wasn’t sure what frostbite felt like. I couldn’t feel my feet. I needed warmth now. From anywhere. I looked. And looked. Newspaper. Insulation? I took off my shoes and wrapped newspaper around my feet before forcing them back into my boots. This cold was miserable. Inescapable.

And this is the plight of the homeless. Mornings. Afternoons. Evenings. Nights. Daily. Constant preoccupation with survival. Thank you, Mr. President, for immersing me in their trauma.

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~ by shad on January 23, 2009.

5 Responses to “There’s a New Sheriff in Town: Part 2, Frostbite”

  1. Pretty amazing how they continue to survive, despite harsh conditions. May we never forget their plight and seek ways to be the hands and (warm) feet of Jesus.

  2. During the winter months we frequently see homeless people at the local hospital emergency departments. They usually come with some vague complaint, spend a few hours in the warmth and we always make sure they are fed. One particularly cold night, a homeless man came in to be seen. Eventually he was proclaimed healthy and was told he could go. It was at this point that we witnessed what a master they could be at survival. He asked for (and recieved) alot of bandaids. He proceeded to wrap each toe with a few. Then he took an unknown amt of paper towels and lined his shoes with them. All this took about 2 hours, not to mention the hours of “medical care” he recieved in the ER. Needless to say, he wasn’t in the cold that night for long. During all this, many of us felt compassion for him. We called all the local shelters to see if we could find him a warm place to go. He would not agree to go some places, and was asked not to return to other places. Apparently, he has a hard time following rules and is considered a danger to others. So, sometimes the plight they have is of their own making. What would Jesus do or say to this man?

  3. Yeah, that’s tough. And it’s certainly true that their problem can be their own making. The same is true for alcoholics, drug addicts, and others. They need something our society is ill-equipped to provide: long-term love and guidance. The kind a father bestows on even the most stubborn child. May we help where our society cannot….

  4. We almost had the same experience with frostbite. We also arrived there around the same time via the Metro. We was on the mall behind the press area (CNN I think)/Museum area near the porto potties. It was very cold. Wife started getting frostbite (we had hand and toe warmers on!!!). I managed to keep mine away by jogging every few minutes (for 6 hours straight!!). I got a lot of cardio that day. My wife was not going for that though. We almost had to leave it was so cold. As soon as the Prez speech was over we left immediately. Walking verry slowly for a the first few minutes but then were able to speed up later. No frostbite but a painful experience. My wife said never again, I agreed. I completely agree with the comment about the homeless being out in the cold for an very extended time is very tough!

  5. Strangely (or maybe not), the warmest-looking person I saw on Tuesday was a man who I think was homeless (I’m not 100% sure, but his tattered clothes, unshaven face and pillowcase full of random belongings were clues). I saw him when I was walking–he was sitting by a fence, observing people, just smiling. He wasn’t shivering or hopping around, although I’m sure he was probably cold. It made me wonder if he was thinking that now we knew a little bit what he felt like . . . but still, it’s not the same to be cold with a warm bed in sight as it is to be cold with only more days of cold ahead.

    My Grandmother once made it her project to help one of the homeless women in town. She gave her food and clothing and tried to help her find a place to stay, but the woman insisted that she was happier on the streets and didn’t want to go to a shelter or stay at anyone’s home. She and my Grandma became friends over time, and my Grandma thought that maybe her initial turning down of shelter was just out of pride, so periodically, she’d ask her if she was sure she didn’t want a place to stay, but the woman never did take her up on the offer. It’s hard to believe someone would choose to live outside during a Pennsylvania winter, but somehow it made sense to her. To me, that’s more than fascinating.

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