|Esther at her usual spot. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)|
She’s always there on a bench in downtown Nashville, blocks from the honky-tonks on Broadway, surrounded by all her worldly possessions. Two bags filled with clothes, a cart stuffed with plastic bags and who-knows-what-else, a few scraps of food, a sleeping bag.
When I saw her during the summer, I’d occasionally say hello. I bought her a Gatorade during a scorching afternoon. One morning, I gave her a bag of bagels and a water. Nothing much. “Oh, thank you,” she said in a sweet, high-pitched voice. After a 15- or 20-second conversation, I was off to my life. But I never got her name.
On Christmas Eve, my daughter Jessie and I went to a wonderful, inspiring church service in Nashville, blocks from the nameless homeless lady’s bench. The place was filled. We listened to a terrific sermon, admired the two beautifully decorated Christmas trees on the altar, offered the sign of peace to those near us. Simply tremendous. All the parishioners held small, lit candles — no, I didn’t burn down the church — while singing Silent Night. Who doesn’t love that song?
During the service, I thought of the Lady on The Bench. Would she be in her usual spot on Christmas Eve? Sure enough, she was there, alone as usual, surrounded by her meager possessions and wrapped in rags.
After I dropped off my daughter, I grabbed a few things in my apartment for the Lady on The Bench. A blanket I didn’t really need. Eight cans of SpaghettiOs I’d never eat. Some bread. Two sleeves of crackers. Nothing much.
I parked my car in a near-empty lot near The Lady on The Bench and delivered the goods. “Oh, thank you,” she said in the high-pitched voice I remembered from months earlier. “God bless you,” I said. Our eyes never met. That’s Ok. I asked for her name.
“Esther,” she told me.
What a nice name. Unforgettable, actually.
A good lesson, too: Don’t ever forget the Esthers.