It takes five minutes to drive through a town like Coatesville, Pennsylvania, but in the forty minutes it took us to walk, we were struck by the simple beauty of it’s design, and the warmth and hospitality of the residents we encountered.
Take Tom, for instance. Our first interaction in the town, Tom had a handsome, white beard, a round face, and United States Army veteran hat atop his head. Tom was outside his home, shoveling snow, when we came walking by with our massive pushcart and neon safety vests. We helped him shovel his walkway, he shared stories from his childhood in Coatesville, and from his experience in the army, and soon we had developed a rapport with this stranger. Before we parted ways, Tom made a donation to JOIN, paid for our lunch, and urged us to be safe on our journey with the sincerity of a close friend.
Or take the man shoveling outside the massive brick building, who saw our cart, and, assuming we were homeless, invited us inside for a warm meal. “It’s not much, but it does the job,” he said, motioning us over from the street. Even after we explained we weren’t homeless, and talked about the walk, he still invited us in, eager to help out a neighbor. They may not have had much, but the soup was warm, we rested our legs, and the one man working exuded a gentle grace and humility that would welcome any stranger. “Quiet dignity” was how we described it afterwards. With a quiet dignity and calming grace, they were serving those most in need in their community. We left that building frustrated by the evident lack of resources available for them, curious what homelessness looked like in a city so small, and grateful for the beautiful, humbling experience they invited us into.
Or take the woman driving past us towards the freeway, who slowed her car down, and shouted at us “where ya going?” When we replied San Francisco, she grabbed a $20 bill from her pocket, raised her hand to the sky, and waited for us to cross traffic to retrieve it.
Often people see our cart and assume we are homeless. They avoid eye contact with us, looking away before reading our sign. What has struck us about some places is how friendly people are to us, despite thinking we might be homeless.
Quiet dignity. A community like Coatesville was ready to embrace a stranger as if they were neighbors, even if that stranger was actually just two crazy kids, trying to walk across America.