I was walking through Boston Common today on my way to lunch. It was a stunning winter day in the city with temperatures closer to late March or early April. People walk through the Common for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s just exercise while for others it’s a threadbare shortcut between Boylston Street and Beacon Hill. On a day like today, many of the homeless camp out on the benches that abundantly dot the Common.
The warmth of the distant sun today gives them something they’re not used to at this time of the year—comfort.
I was quite a distance away when I saw the body lying on the softening ground of the Common, covered from head-to-toe in a black sleeping bag. The word “corpse” went through my mind before I had the chance to voluntarily stop it. “Corpse”, I said it out loud. It felt strange just saying it. Upon closer inspection, I could see the person was breathing by the gentle up and down movement of the sleeping bag. I sat for a few moments on a bench across the way and watched person after person walk by with nary a glance. I was both shocked and appalled by the sheer lack of curiosity and compassion a situation like this should demand. It’s as if this person was dead, I thought. In a city like Boston, I find myself saying (almost daily), there but for the grace of God.
I thought about the phrase I’d heard at virtually every wake I’d ever been to: He/She is in a better place now.
I looked across at the body lying lifeless on the Common, covered in its black winter pall and hoped that somehow that was the truth. They were in a better place.
I looked in my wallet and saw that I had two twenties and two ones. I’m usually broke anyway but I walked over and tucked my two dollar bills underneath the edge of the sleeping bag. No movement and no thank you and in the end, that was alright with me. I just hope they found the money I left and bought themselves something warm. It's ironic that as I did that, only then did people start looking.