One evening a cool breeze picked up as I strolled through Olde City on my way home. It was the refreshing kind. A wind of change, in an otherwise disgustingly muggy summer evening. A smile cracked across my face as I pressed forward. In fact, the words bubbled straight from my gut and out of my mouth, “Man, I’m grateful for that breeze.”
My smile quickly shifted to a grimace when I strolled past a paunchy old man with a disheveled white beard. He was asleep upright on a bench with an aluminum walking cane propped against him. His right shoe was off, exposing large holes in his sock, while his left shoe remained on and neatly taped and tied. With each labored breath he took he seemed to teeter somewhere between death and sleep. I picked up my pace and diverted my eyes to the tiny cracks and the discolored remnants of chewing gum that lined the sidewalk
Another block ahead, a man wrapped in several different articles of clothing was laying on a stone slab. He stared blankly past me towards a grassy field. I turned my head to see Independence Hall majestically lit at the end of that field. Independence, freedom, liberty. Mathematics, fate, or free will. What was it that determined his outcome?
As I rounded the corner towards my home, a man sat in a dark corner growling while slamming his head into his hands over and over. In between whimpers, obscenities flew from his mouth while he pulled on what little hair he had left. A girl walking towards him on her cell phone looked at him nervously, then prepared to cross the street. “Grateful for the breeze,” echoed through my head.
Not 20 minutes prior, I had been engrossed in the nightlife debauchery with Skinny Pete. The music faded and chattering voices filled the air as people starting to flowing into the streets. A barback was hustling to clean up everyone’s empty drinks while two girls were happily singing and dancing down the street as if the night could never end. A sudden cracking sound caught my attention. Skinny Pete and I looked over to see a short well dressed man punch a taller man in the face. We shrugged it off and continued sipping our beers, as the man that was hit staggered backwards bumping into our table.
It really wasn’t our place to get involved in a drunken dispute. After all, this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but occasionally life has a way of surprising even me.
As we finished our beers, I overheard the barback talking about how he was getting ready to finish up his up his job – a third one he picked up so he could feed his children. His words echoed a timeless moral adage: do right by your children; one that I rarely encounter. As for the two men that fought, the taller one had grabbed of one of the girls that was dancing in the street. It turns out neither of the men knew the girls, but the well dressed man had jumped in to help her when she panicked. Even Skinny Pete himself had seen the power of Brotherly Love when Philadelphia’s residents banded together to help him get back on his feet after his home was lost in a tragic fire.
I considered my use of the word grateful earlier; a small word with heavy meaning. It wasn’t that I was ungrateful for all the wonderful things in my life. It was just that I had thrown the word around too quickly without reflection on the bigger picture. I was with friends, enjoying music, life, and a beautiful night, regardless of the humidity.
Things can always be worse.
That was something to be grateful for I thought as I quietly shut the door to my house.