I dropped Ted off at an afternoon meeting in Santa Monica, parked the car, and took Abe for a stroll to enjoy the cool ocean air. We stopped into an all-wooden toy shop and when we came out, I saw a scraggly older man sitting on a concrete wall next door. We had only a few minutes to wait until Ted got out of his meeting, so I meandered over to him.
His smile that he greeted us with was all the invitation Abe needed to start saying "Hi!" to him. The man's face lit up even more as Abe made his acquaintance. He told me that his name was Miguel, and I asked if I could sit down next to him on the wall while we waited for "papa." He spoke about as much English as I speak Spanish, but I managed to find out that he was born in Mexico, lived most of his life in San Diego and has four children, all of whom are spread out across the country.
As soon as I sat down, he pulled out of his heavy overcoat a toy for Abe: the wind-up song part of an old baby mobile. He wound it up and handed it to him. Abe loved it. We had little to say, what with the language barrier, but Miguel, with his long white beard, cap, and sun-toasted brown face, just sat and smiled as Abe played with the toy.
An elderly Egyptian lady walked up as we were sitting there with Miguel and started to talk to Abe. She is the owner of a jewelry store around the corner and has been in this country for 37 years. I watched these two older people, neither born on American soil and both living in completely different situations, interact joyfully with my son. It's funny how a cute baby can bring people together.
Shaking hands with people is one of Abe's favorite things to do, so he held out his hand to the Egyptian lady. She took it and shook his hand. One shake is never enough for Abe, so he then reached for Miguel. And this is what broke my heart: Miguel furrowed his brows sadly, and shook his head no, gesturing to his dirty hands. Abe didn't understand why he wasn't getting his hand. So I shook Abe's hand myself, and then motioned to Miguel that it was okay. With a lot of convincing from both me and my son's stubbornly outstretched hand, Miguel caved. He offered a shake to Abe, which pleased both of them.
Miguel then gave Abe a colorful purple pen, which I tried to turn down, telling Miguel that Abe can't write yet. He insisted that Abe take it. For the next few minutes, Abe used the pen as a drumstick to beat on his wind-up toy while I sang "Old McDonald" and Miguel clapped along. Not long after, Ted came out of his meeting, and I introduced him to our new friend. I tried to give Miguel the pen again, but he shook his head and said, "No, for remember me" as he nodded his head in Abe's direction.
Again with a lot of convincing, we managed to convince him to take a few dollars from us, but he seemed embarrassed that we were offering. I've been thinking about Miguel all day and how I heard once that all the homeless really want from us is an acknowledgment that they exist. Just a nod of the head, a smile, or a moment to talk.
It's so easy to turn my head and ignore the many homeless in Los Angeles. So many of them suffer from mental illness or drug addiction, so there's always this fear of them doing something unpredictable or scary. Miguel today just seemed to want a little company. He was a kind gentleman, more generous than a lot of us. I wonder what led him to the point he's in currently in his life, sitting alone on a concrete wall in Santa Monica, smiling kindly at and sharing his few possessions with my son.
All he wanted was to be remembered. I can't do anything but.