Hot Soup, Free Hugs Under a Bridge in DC
“This is who we are. We take care of each other.”
I’d passed that bridge about a half dozen times over the last several months. I noticed the make shift tents and the people and I’d wanted to stop, but wasn’t sure how or where to put my car. Thankfully, my housemate Gail knew exactly where I was talking about when I asked her if she knew about the folks living under the bridge and she knew of a parking spot just beyond.
Christmas Day seemed the perfect day to finally meet some of these people and share a bit of hot soup and conversation.
Her name is Joy. She likes documentaries. She’s worked in medical records and believes everyone should be greeted with a smile because as she says, you never know what somebody’s just been through. Joy understands about being through something; she happens to live under the bridge.
His name is Wayne. He has 2 teenagers. He’s been out for 4 years.
He also lives under the bridge.
His name is Mario. He used to work at Home Depot until he sprained his ankle badly and then got pneumonia and missed too many days of work so he lost his job. He was sitting on the highway median strip when I approached with my pot of soup and Free Hugs sign. Important things first, we hugged hello and exchanged names. We sat and talked for a short while, the cars buzzing past us on both sides. We agreed it was a beautiful day to be outside, though the several rainy days were no fun. I asked if he lived under the nearby bridge. “yes, ma’am, there’s a lot of us down there.” I asked if it would be ok if I stopped by to visit another time and share another hug. “Yes, ma’am, that’d be nice.” I hugged him again and then went back under the bridge.
I approached the tents first to the left of the split in the highway. “hello, is anyone home? Anyone hungry? I’ve also got some clean socks and hand-warmers to share.” No answer. I noticed blankets neatly folded and a fire pit and plastic garbage bags transformed into shelters. I left several pairs of socks and the warmers in a bag with Merry Christmas written on it.
I made my way to the other side of the highway. This shelter was complete with several tents, tarps, bicycles and even a hospital bed and an office chair in front of a desk. Once again I called out greetings. “hello, anyone home? Anyone want some hot soup or need some clean socks? I got Free Hugs too.”
A moment letter a smiling face peered out from one of the tents. “Hey, yeah I’m hungry, soup sounds good.” I walk over smiling. “It’s 14 bean soup with some diced tomatoes, that ok with you?”
“Yeah, sounds real good, thanks.”
I ladle the soup and another face pops out of the tent, eyes shining. “Would you like some soup too?”
“Hi, my name is Kristin. I hope the soup is ok, I had some for lunch and I’m still standing,” I say grinning as I hand them both bowls of soup.
“My name is Wayne.”
“Hi Wayne, Merry Christmas.
I ask the young woman her name. “My name is Joy.”
I smile bigger, “Oh I have a dear friend named Joy, you know you both have the same smiling eyes.”
And then I sit down on the ground, holding up the tarp so we can see each other and talk. And I tell them that for me Christmas is about sharing. I tell them though I’ve never been homeless I have lived under poverty level, but feel so very fortunate I’ve somehow always had a roof over my head, but I am well aware that any moment it could change. I blurt out a bit about my childhood being rough and then realize I should stop talking and listen. Though I do ask some questions.
Joy shared about the importance of people helping each other and seeing the human being in every one you meet. She shared how the shelters and system, though they want to help, too often treat people like a case number. “We are all human.”
I nod my head, “yes, as we sit and speak with each other, we start to learn we are not that different, we are bound to find something we have in common. For example, I like documentaries too.”
Joy spoke about how she had housing, but a few months ago her landlord turned into a slum lord and skipped town with several months of rent money and Joy was evicted and back out on the street. We never know how close to this reality we might be.
Joy just saw the viral video of the homeless man receiving the $100 and then spending it to buy food to share with his friends in the park. She said, “this is who we are, this is what we do. We take care of each other. We are family out here. We are more than some case number, we are human beings.”
Indeed, we are all human beings. Here’s to seeing each other and listening, learning and loving each other. And may we all see the human being in every encounter we experience.
Hugs from my heart to yours.