On a corner in Seattle last weekend, just before breakfast, Bill, my husband, and I stood with a young man while we all waited for the light to change. He engaged us, telling us his story. He was originally from Kenya, had moved to Michigan but found the weather too cold, and for whatever reason, was now living under a bridge in Seattle. Until he said that he was homeless, neither of us had a clue. He was clean and well-spoken. His story reminded me of one that I wrote after going to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with our son Theo:
A day of adventure at Golden Gate Park was a pleasant diversion for my three-year old son, Theo, and me. We rented a paddleboat at Stowe Lake and paddled across the lake. With our cannons booming off the bridge, we played pirates all around the island in the middle of the lake. Many other people were using the lake for boating, and a large group had collected on a nearby baseball field for a game. Beyond the trees around the lake, we could hear the music of an outdoor blues concert. The people we saw, like us, were warmly dressed to protect against the fog that regularly creeps into San Francisco.
We ate lunch and Theo did not have the patience to play any game for long. But a walk in the woods spelled, "Adventure." we climbed over fallen logs, picked our way through the underbrush, and followed a trail around an old log house. I watched Theo from behind as his determined strut carried him down the path. Even as we walked, I repeatedly checked our back trail to make sure we did not get lost. Deeper in the brush, we found two makeshift lean-tos made from large branches and leaves, evidence of another kind of living dramatically different from our own sequestered world where a walk in a small grove of trees in a large city park is just a 'walk in the woods.' My son looked at the makeshift pile of branches and leaves and headed immediately down the trail towards one of the lean-tos. "Let's head over the hill this way," I called to divert his attention.
Someone made those woods their home and knew the safest places in the park to build a small nest for the night. These wood dwellers were not here for a day's picnic like we were. They had carved out their lives in the underbrush. Except for a moldering piece of jeans dropped on the trail, the hidden homes and the trails to them were the only evidence that other humans used the forest in different ways than we did.
I wondered what this someone who in lived in the woods was like. I felt a shiver of recognition. Had that someone once scampered through the woods following a mother on a trail?
What had made that someone change so much that living in the woods became the last safe haven, so close to civilization but so far from its normal boundaries? I watched as my son turned down another trail, picked up a stick, and aimed it at the sky. My dreams for my son are wide dreams full of adventure and social purpose. I dream that my son will leave the world a better place than he found it. Looking at the lean-tos, I know that a mother wished that too, but that sometimes dreams don't come true.
With Mother's Day this Sunday, I hope that you will give all the mothers, sons, and daughters that you know a big hug that will keep them close and safe. Dream big!