Homelessness Nonfiction Observations Seattle

Leaves of Remembrance.

Throughout Seattle there are small metal plates in the shape of maple leaves that are embedded into the sidewalk. These are “Leaves of Remembrance” that “bear names of homeless women and men who’ve died, so that every person will have a place to be remembered”. People walk on and around them all the time, unaware of the purpose or significance of the leaves.

Only a few people were on the block that morning. It was not yet 8am, so the offices were still closed. The door to the corner store was open, though no customers were inside. A man was leaning against the building on the far end of the block, smoking a cigarette. The light of the sun was just starting to break through the grey clouds.

A man was squatting on the ground, inspecting the Leaves of Remembrance surrounding him. Near him was a styrofoam container of Cup Noodles, the lid removed. He dipped a white napkin into the ramen cup and rubbed it on a metal leaf. He leaned forward to inspect his work, leaned back to change his perspective, then wiped the entire leaf clean. After rotating his body, he began washing and wiping the neighboring leaves.

I’m not sure if he ever lived outside, though he has had his own apartment for years now. Does he recognize the names on the leaves? Was this his way of commemorating someone he once knew? Was this his way of helping to beautify the neighborhood? Is this part of his routine and I simply had not noticed until that morning?

He looked up when I walked past, though he did not recognize that I work as his psychiatrist. I did not greet him, though thanked him silently for his act of kindness during this time of calamity.