Wednesday, the day after Christmas, was the first time the Day Center has been open since last Friday. Over those intervening four days, about four inches of snow has fallen and the temperature has dipped below 20 degrees overnight. It makes even the most hardy campers look for a place inside, but not everyone finds one.
For those sleeping on an island in the river, the morning brought wet feet. In the dry early part of the winter, the channel was easy to ford on stepping stones. Then, with the temperature drop, the ice held up for crossing. But with the snow and warming cycles we've been through, the level of the river is up and the ice is melted where it flows in the channel.
Wet feet are dangerous. This afternoon, they'll be building a bridge with salvage lumber and stones to get them through the coming weeks.
There were stories about holiday acts of kindness, too.
Several folks talked of flying signs on Christmas Eve and seeing beautiful blonde little girls jump out of cars and run up to them with red Christmas cards. Inside each one, they found a $10 gift card and a five-dollar bill.
At the park a woman handed out packages of long johns. Someone, not a Day Center guest, was berating the woman for not having the tops as well. "She probably bought those out of her own pocket," said one of the witnesses, "and he was yelling at her. That was just plain wrong."
He turned to greet a new arrival. "Did you get what you wanted for Christmas?"
"If I got what I wanted for Christmas, I wouldn't be here," said the man.
"Well, if I got what I wanted for Christmas, you wouldn't be here, either."
Ho, ho, ho.
I brought in a box of books donated by the local independent bookstore, Grand Valley Books. The titles tend toward best-sellers and genre fiction taken in by the store along with the used books it intends to stock. This box contained a couple novels I've read, such as The Secret History and The Likeness as well as some rejects I wondered if I should put on the shelf, such as The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need and Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.
Before the morning was over, half the new books had been taken, and although the two self-help titles were still on the shelf, both of them had found readers in the room who replaced them when they left.
When I was here last spring, I wrote about my conversation with one of our regulars who'd offered to keep a journal and share it with me to give me some deeper insight into the lives of homeless people away from the Day Center. At the time, I felt honored and looked forward to my return to Colorado with some anticipation. I also knew enough to consider the possibility that the journal wouldn't get very far.
When I saw Carl again, he ignored me and I let it slide for a few weeks. Maybe he was having a bad day. Or maybe he hadn't followed through on his project and didn't want to have to tell me.
It became clear he wasn't going to come forward to me, and if he had discomfort on that account, I didn't want it to continue, so today I sought him out and asked if he remembered me.
"I remember you," he said in manner that made it clear he didn't care to. "You don't know me and I don't know you."
"But doing a journal was your idea," I stammered, caught off guard by his reaction. "You offered to do it, and I appreciated it very much."
"You're some writer writing a book and I don't know why I should tell you anything," he said.
I left it at, "It's okay, you don't owe me anything."
Of course he doesn't, but he gave me something this morning—a reminder that for all my goodwill and desire to give other people some insight into this world, I have to be careful not to abuse my privilege. It's his life, not mine, and I do not know him. Not really.
Simply wanting to help does not grant me access or a higher standing or a superior grasp of his circumstances. And that's why I asked him questions in the first place.
But I still have to remember, I am the real guest at the Day Center.