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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

TLC Blog – More Than A Suitcase

I have a confession to make. I really dislike Nextdoor. For those of you who don’t know, it is a network for neighbors to connect with each other via an email group. I think it was started with good intentions about how we can get to know each other, support each other in our neighborhoods, and look out for each other. All wonderful intentions.

But nearly every time I get a Nextdoor notice in my email inbox and click on it, it is about someone warning everyone about all the bad that is out there. The people who “don’t belong” in the neighborhood. It turns into fear mongering. Then, what is worse, it turns into neighbors hurling abuse at each other for their responses. It brings out the worst in people so often, fueling anger towards and fear of one another. Just how you want to build neighborhood camaraderie.

And yet, I am sucked into some conversations anyway and will go down that rabbit hole to see where people are at in their thoughts.

This winter, a thread popped up that I entered, because I happened to have seen the subject of the thread earlier that day in my morning walk around the lake. People were calling him “the suitcase guy”. He does not have a home and wanders the area with a pile of suitcases seven or eight feet high on a dolly, all strapped on, apparently his entire set of worldly possessions. He waves his arms wildly and talks to himself, or to someone who isn’t there, loudly, seemingly unaware of or unconcerned about anyone passing by.

The conversation, other than a few “this person should not be in our neighborhood” comments, was different this time than usual. People were concerned he had access to services. Where did he sleep in the winter cold? Is there anything that could be done to help? Who is he? Where did he come from? Why is he here? “The suitcase guy” became a focal point of concern.

Then came the comment that stopped me in my tracks. “His name is David.”

As I write this, it still makes me emotional. “His name is David, not ‘the suitcase guy’. He graduated from the local high school. He does not want help. He will refuse it adamantly. He will refuse offers of money or any other assistance. But if you say hi, he will stop for a moment in his own internal warfare and say hello back. I have had conversations with him. You might try the same and let him know he has a community here.”

A few weeks later, at 5:30 AM on my walk when it was still dark, after the only significant snow of the winter, I saw him lugging his pile of suitcases from one location to the next. I caught up as he was trying to navigate the snow and asked if we wanted a hand. He said no, he was fine. So I said, “I heard you went to the local high school. My daughter went there. She liked it. How did you like it?” He said it’s good now, but back when he went to high school (this is where I discovered he was about my age) it was different, and went into an explanation I couldn’t understand. But we walked side by side for a while chatting until I got to the place where I turned on my walk.

I said as we parted, “I’m Neal.” He said, “Nice to meet you, I’m David.” And ever since, when I see him, I call out “Hi David!” And he calls back with “Good morning.” Or, on one morning when I was taking a photo of the sunrise and he was sitting on a bench across the street behind me, “I don’t think that’s going to work taking a photo directly into the sun.” I asked if he wanted to see it. He said, “Nope.” I said, “Ok, have a good day.” He said, “You, too.”

None of this would have happened if the one guy on the Nextdoor email chain I hate had not said, “His name is David, not the suitcase guy.” He became someone to me. Which is why, when Steve Wilkinson started camps almost 48 years ago, he told us young, green staff kids (college kids, but kids) “When someone comes to TLC, the first thing you do is ask if you can help with their suitcase and introduce yourself and learn their name. And use it at every interaction the rest of camp. Because they are more than a suitcase to us, or we should not bother being a camp.”

His name is David.


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