The Weight of the World and a Sack of Corn

When I returned to Wanda to extend an invitation for lunch, she had a look of surprise on her face.  I approached her wheelchair and leaned over to block the noise of the busy downtown street.  Passers-by stepped around as I pressed closer to her.   I said, “Wanda, I would like you to be my guest for lunch today.” Her mouth opened suddenly as if to say something but no words came from her lips.  Again, she tried to speak. This time, just the word, “really?” uttered in a quiet, gentle tone.  She gazed in total disbelief.  I said, “the Lord told me to invite you to lunch.  Would you like to go?”  I was now focused on the smile that dominated her face.  Wanda’s smile was much like the one I remembered on the face of the homeless man that I first encountered many years ago as I passed a bag of potato chips to him through the car window.  I could tell by her reaction that she was having thoughts of what joining me for lunch might be like and truly desired to accept my invitation.

Chicago Artist - Spreading Cheer

My eyes quickly surveyed Wanda.  In the brief time that I stood in front of her chair, I was reminded of the hard life she must live. This poor, vulnerable, woman was weighted down by the plight of being handicapped, unable to work and dependent on others for her daily bread.  Her crippled legs were wrapped in elastic support stockings.  Through the stockings I could see her twisted and useless feet.  Her hair was short with streaks of gray and the defining lines around her eyes and mouth were prominent.  Wanda lowered her small cup onto her tattered blanket covered lap, took a deep breath and relaxed for a brief second as if she were relieved to see something or someone that offered a little hope.

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Still smiling, she said, “I sure do thank you but I can’t go with you”.  She peered over the side of her chair and pointed with her eyes to the large sack that sat on the ground next to her.  “You see”, she said, someone brought this big sack of corn and left if for me today.  It’s heavy.”   I looked around her wheelchair and noticed several other bags hanging from the handles.  It was apparent that it was going to be a huge effort for Wanda to pack up her bags and blankets which resembled a small campsite, to go into the mall. At that point, I looked at her and asked what she would like for me to deliver to her for lunch.  “I sure would appreciate a sandwich from Walgreens.  Yes, that sure would be delicious.”  Walgreens was only a few yards away from where I stood.  My initial thought was how awful that she would consider a packaged sandwich from Walgreens a delicious meal.  I prodded her for what I thought would be a better choice.  When I realized that she was not going to offer an alternative, I told her that I would return shortly with her lunch.  She said, “If I’m not here when you get back, I’ll be just down the street.  Sometimes they make me move from this spot”. I assured her that I would not be gone long and that if she were not there, I would look until I found her.

Quote etched in granite on the front of the Chicago Tribune building

I decided that a Walgreens prepackaged sandwich would not be fitting for such a dear soul and found myself pointed back to the Macy’s food court for something fresh and hot.  Arriving on the second floor where the food court was located, I purchased a freshly made sandwich, a warm container of minestrone soup, an apple and a drink.  Pushing through the crowd of shoppers and making my way once again to the street, I felt disappointed that Wanda was not able to join me.  Shortly, Wanda came into site, exactly where I had left her.  The sun shone brightly overhead making a shadow on the concrete of a poor, crippled beggar.  There in the shadow was a woman named Wanda, who with dignity, was sitting in her wheelchair with a cup in hand.  I delivered her lunch, which, she was very grateful to have and said good-bye leaving behind my new friend with the weight of the world and a sack of corn.

A Portrait of the Poor on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile

Today is not my first experience on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.  I first walked the mile a year ago when Bill had a real estate conference to attend.  Neither one of us had any ideas about Chicago and couldn’t wait to search out all that the city had to offer.  When we arrived on that winter day in 2010, my senses were awakened to many of life’s greatest pleasures.  There were beautifully designed buildings of award-winning architecture on every site line, some very old historical buildings and some, more contemporary in style.  The delectable smell of Chicago style “dogs” with the aroma of kraut, and deep-dish pizza caught my attention on more than one city block.  The hustle and bustle of inner city life was a buzz in every form.  Taxicabs colored the streets with gold, and red, double-decked buses cruised tourist around the city of ten million with their deafening microphone announcements of every site of interest that a person could take in on an afternoon tour while being exposed to the very cold elements from atop a bus.

Chicago's Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile is indeed magnificent in every sense of the word.  It is one of Chicago’s claims to fame as it boasts a full mile of shopping in over 400 of America’s most well known stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s, and not one but, two Macy’s – one on either end of the mile long stretch of shopper’s paradise.  I believe Macy’s wanted to be certain they captured every potential spender either on her way up or down “the mile”.   We strolled along taking in the sites.  I could see beads of sweat forming on Bill’s brow in the fifty-degree temperature.  As I observed the sweat phenomenon taking over, I knew for sure it was time to take him to the hotel and away from the singing of cash registers.  I was certain that once he was confined in the room, away from anything that looked or sounded like moldy money leaving his pocket, he would surely recover.  With an obvious case of anxiety taking over my dear husband, we went back to the hotel to allow him a time of recovery.  I was very accommodating to him as I silently mapped out in my head the experience that I would allow myself without him, the following day, while he attended the conference.

Downtown Chicago
The Chicago River - Downtown Chicago

The next morning, when I was sure that Bill was far, far away from my new-found paradise, I slid into my most comfortable pair of shoes and weighted my purse down with green and plastic.  There would be nothing to stop me this day!  In my mind, Chicago had no idea what was about to storm its street.  I was about to run the mile in record-breaking shopper speed.   However, as I left the hotel, I realized I had a false start.  The stores would not be opened for a few more minutes.

Just outside the hotel, was a quaint coffee shop where I could stay warm while waiting for the starter gun to sound.   I went inside, placed my order and pulled a chair up next to a large, plate-glass window that exposed the tantalizing view of my dream world.  I had just settled in with my warm cup of coffee when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman sitting on the sidewalk.  It was obvious to me that she was in need.  She was dirty.  Her clothes didn’t match and were torn.  She held a small Styrofoam cup in her brown, stained hands in hopes of hearing the plink of a coin falling from time to time.   I intently studied the woman’s face.  Her lips were cracked and her skin was wrinkled and dry from the cold.  She had shallow eyes with dark circles.  Her head hung slightly and her shoulders slumped as though she carried shame.  Many, many people passed by.  They walked around her, behind and in front without acknowledgment.  I sat in disbelief as I watched the number of people who passed, simply ignoring her.  I sipped my coffee and stoically observed all of those who turned a blind eye and deaf ear to this poor woman calling for help.  How could this happen?  How did she get here?  What’s her name?  Does anyone see her?  Why is she seemingly invisible?   I sat in confusion pondering these thoughts over in my mind and the more I thought, the more I could feel my ideas of shopping taking on a new image.  I could feel my interest in the bargain basement waning.  Thoughts of Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor, Gucci and the likes began to fade into the background of the portrait of the poor, who ironically sit, begging for a single coin on the very street where daily, cash registers sing.