Midwinter Encounter
He was old and she was young: a child old enough to question and not quite young enough to believe, an old man with accumulated troubles and not much to live for.

Life goes on, sometimes whether we want it to or not. Our most basic necessity, the sun, abandons us each evening but returns the next morning. The weather gives and takes away. It is less apparent in sunnier climes and in our modern well-clothed and -sheltered age, but in the middle of winter, the hope of spring, crops and food sometimes grows as cold and gray and dim as the wind whipping past our coats and doors.

Call him John. At 50 he had not accomplished much, had, in fact, no income (his last job was bagging groceries, lost when he got into an argument with a customer), not much in the way of friends and was about to lose his house through foreclosure. He had some talent as a painter, but only the very lucky and aggressive can manage to parley talent into monetary success. He had neither.

Children are not innocent, much as we want to believe them so -- just ask any mother or father after a day spent with only three little ones for company. When they are safely asleep, we consider them lovely and innocent, completely forgetting the fights, the tantrums and the attempts to steal cookies behind our backs.

She wouldn't tell you her name; call her Susan. She had quite definite ideas about who looked trustworthy. Most of the population did not fit her ideas, so it's surprising that she was willing to talk to John. Maybe she gotten tired of walking or had noticed the grocery bag he'd just gotten from the food bank. She asked him where he was going. The first person she'd spoken to all day, since running away from home.

He had not yet reached the state of paranoid delusion that would cut him off from humanity, so he answered. The conversation continued like that; her questions, his answers as they walked to his house.

She was hungry. The food bank was only open once a week. He made her a sandwich, trading a day of his hunger for hers. Her questions were disillusioned, angry, upset, and he, having no answers for himself, made up answers for her. He told her truth, not sugar coated, but still mindful that there can be a future for a little girl if she chooses. And when she chose to go home, he walked her back.

Eventually we each run out of future. Against the infinity of it our children carry what we give to and through them however little or large.

There are those who would romanticize mental illness, but it is a painful, lonesome and scary process to lose touch with the world one piece at a time. Everyone becomes an enemy, not to be trusted; every word heard and icon seen is full of multiple dark meanings; and no place is safe, ever

He started forgetting his medication, then refusing it. When the institutions ran out of room they discharged him and he ended up on the street not even capable of begging with a sign at a street corner.

There can be a future for a little girl if she chooses. Her life wasn't without problems; she took a long time getting through college, had a disastrous first marriage, but married again and now has grandchildren. Her degree was in clinical psychology and she runs a free clinic in her old neighborhood, helping those who cannot otherwise afford help.

Someone once asked her why. She answered that she'd always wanted to help people who had mental problems. She wasn't lying; she just didn't remember. It wasn't always; only ever since John had walked her home.