I turned left, headed north on 7th. I was only half a mile into my morning run, but since it was already nearly 85 degrees when I woke up, I was working up a good sweat quickly. As I turned, I saw the pair sitting on the sidewalk, filling out what looked like job applications. I'm not good at guessing people's ages, especially when life hasn't been kind to them as I assumed it hadn't for these two women. Mothers (probably), daughters (certainly), lovers, friends - whatever their role in life they were now homeless, rebounding, and trying to play the game again with the kind help from others. My guess is they were staying at the nearby shelter. I'm not sure of the particular rules there, but it might be like many others: a place to get a night's rest, but you have to be out the door by 8 AM. No hanging out. Get dressed. Get showered. Get a job. See you at 5 PM for dinner if you haven't found a home and work by then.
The heat was only getting worse and the forecast called for more sweltering temperatures all week long. The pair were forced to pencil in their answers to demographic and personal history questions on this urban sidewalk, finding a bit of shade under an old oak tree that had dodged the recent bullets of nearby development. There it stood, daring a chainsaw or bulldozer to level it to make way for new loft apartments made to look old. And beneath its shadow these two women completed their paperwork.
When it comes to social change, a lot of times we want to be the solution. We want to be the shelter, the employer, the clothes closet, or the food pantry. But sometimes, we need to be the tree.
The tree can play an integral - if temporary - role in helping others. You'll get no thanks. Your name will not be called at an awards banquet and you won't appear in an annual newsletter's donation roster. But letting other people simply sit beneath the protection and comfort only you can provide? Sometimes there is no better part for you to play.