Wendell Williams

On this park bench in this tiny triangle of a park right outside the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Abraham Lincoln and his wife once worshipped, I used to sit — sometimes dreaming, sometimes full of anger, sometimes full of the frustration you experience when you’re homeless and just can’t seem to get it together.

I would sit in this little park because it was kind of isolated. Although it is in the middle of downtown, there are plenty of trees and, as people drive up and down 13th Street, New York Avenue and I Street, they barely even notice that it’s there. I went to that park to kind of hide from life. And on this one particular day, a lady came.

She was older than I was, looking kind of grandmother-like, and decided, out of all the open benches, that she would sit down on the one beside me. To this day, I don’t know why, but what ensued over the next few months is certainly something that makes my heart smile. Several times during my struggle I have been the beneficiary of some woman sitting down beside me to give me either motherly or sisterly advice or support. She started off by just eating her lunch next to me. I began to notice that every day she would come with a lunch that seemed impossible for one person to actually consume during their brief lunch hour. And then, one day, she asked, “Would you like some of my sandwich?”

Of course, being the kind of jerk that I can be from time to time, I was offended that she would offer me part of her lunch. I’m thinking, “Who does she think I am? Do I look like I need lunch?”

My ego got in the way and I refused as I watched her continue to eat that lunch. Man, that sandwich started to look so good, but I had taken the position that I did not want her lunch or help, and I had to sit there with my mouth watering.

The next time I saw her, I was anticipating that I would be getting some of that great-looking sandwich, but this time she never offered, finished her sandwich and wrapped up her things. I said “Have a nice day” and walked away. Boy, was I messed up. I believe that she thought I was offended by her offer. Days went by before she offered again.

When she finally did, she said, “This sandwich is just too much for me to eat. Would you like to have half of it?” My ego again got in the away, and I again said no. Still, whoever this lady was, she was smart enough to see that I really wanted that sandwich, so she left part of it in the bag on the bench and left the park. I couldn’t wait until she got out of sight.

I opened up that bag and unwrapped that sandwich, and it was truly delicious. I can’t even remember what kind of sandwich it was, but I do remember the joy I felt for eating something other than soup-kitchen food.

As time went on, we began engaging in very small and brief conversations, about anything other than why I was sitting on that bench every day.

Finally, one day, she asked, “Do you know anyone who may need a few things to wear? Because my husband doesn’t need these anymore.” I looked so disheveled and smelled so bad. This kind lady didn’t want to say that I need a shower and a change of clothes. She simply used it to give me a chance to humbly accept her gift of clean and fresh clothing.

As time went by, we met at that bench a few times a week a lunch time.I would look forward to it. I was staying in the old Franklin School shelter, right across the street from Franklin Square

Park. We talked about all sorts of things, from politics to life. In retrospect, I realize that through my brief time knowing this woman,she reminded me that even though I was homeless, in her kind and compassionate eyes I was still very much a human being.