By Michelle Railey
A couple weeks ago, I was driving to work, late as usual (I can’t sleep. It’s a problem).
There was a man at the corner of Southport Road and Madison. He was eating cold pizza under a streetlight in a late November sun. His cardboard sign asked for food and blankets. “Anything will help.”
And three seconds later, I’m jerking my tardy car into a strange parking lot because, as it turns out, I’ve got a blanket.
This is the blanket I’ve had since 1986, when my mom bought one for me and one for my sister. It has been my beach blanket since 1999: the blanket I keep in the back of my car on the chance that I might accidentally drive to a beach. It doesn’t usually happen, but you never know. The blanket is peach flannel. Lightweight. Soft. A girly color* and full of 1980s good will and children’s dreams in the age of Wham and Barbie and the Rockers.
The guy accepts this blanket, with or without my memories attached. He rolls it up and it becomes a beacon on the top of his more staid and masculine blue backpack.
I watch him walk on. He didn’t say thanks. He didn’t say anything. Those are my memories on his back now and I just think he’s cold. My peach blanket is bouncing along Madison on the back of a stranger.
Most strangers ask for money. He asked only for food and a blanket. I had a blanket.
I don’t know how to solve homelessness. I don’t know how to solve cold. I hope my memories as much as the flannel embrace that man but I don’t hold any hope that a blanket can solve a social fabric that has holes.
It is good, in this world to give to others. But I wish there was, in this world, a version in which need was not necessary and want, a virtue of luxury and not food and blankets.
Bless that man.
Bless all who need blankets. And all who need food.
And bless those men carrying peach and girl-y blankets. I bet there’s not much heavier, if you want the truth.
*I “get” that color is ungendered, but as things go, this particular peach carries connotations of associative femininity, to the author’s mind, at least.