The Death of a Homeless Man

Peter Osgood
Spare Change News

About 13 years ago I had reason to go to Boston’s Back Bay on a regular basis in the morning. For one thing, I could find good coffee and a bagel to start my day. I have done that pretty much daily ever since.

Then about 10 years ago I started seeing this man on the street begging for spare change. I was always wary of giving such people money as I was not interested in assisting someone’s drug or alcohol addiction. But this guy was different. I saw him every morning in the same place, at the corner of Boylston and Berkley Streets in front of Starbucks. He was never drunk or high and always quite friendly.

After a while I started giving him a dollar a day, a little more at Christmas. I thought he should have a gift like anyone else. After a few years I asked him his name. He told me it was Arthur. He knew my comings and goings and I knew his. I found out he was an army veteran and on several occasions I tried to talk him into going to the Veteran’s Shelter to get out of the weather, and also to go to the Veterans Administration for medical help. I had found out that some years before he had sustained a serious head injury, which some hypothesized messed up his thinking enough to keep him on the street.

I was not the only person who had something of a personal relationship with Arthur. There were any number of people I saw who regularly stopped to give him a dollar and chat a little. Arthur was always pleasant, seemed to have a good memory for what people told him, and would tell us when our cars were in danger of being ticketed.

The years passed and Arthur, to me anyway, seemed to be a fixture of early morning Boylston Street. I always made sure I had a single dollar in my wallet that I could give to him, and when I forgot and did not have one, I told him I would bring one to him right after I got my coffee which I always did. I had come to feel a sense of obligation towards him. I never felt pity for Arthur, he made his choices for reasons he did not care to reveal. He had said to me on several occasions that he was actively looking into housing.

One recent morning as I walked into get my coffee, not at Starbucks but at the Au Bon Pain right next door, a man who works for the MBTA (Boston’s transportation system) who knew me by sight pulled me aside. He told me that Arthur had died some days before from an apparent heart attack. He told me that Au Bon Pain had actually put up a notice about Arthur’s death. That too speaks to the worth of the man, more than he ever realized. Arthur Dorgan of Quincy Massachusetts had died and a memorial service was being held for him. I felt immediate and deep sadness.

As I left I could not help but notice the vacancy on the sidewalk, which I had come used to seeing Arthur occupying each morning. Arthur Dorgan may have died a penniless street person in Boston’s fashionable Back Bay, but his stature among men was big. Arthur showed an uncommon kindness which many of us lack too often. If there is a heaven, I am certain God was waiting there for him and said to him as he entered, “Welcome home, Arthur.”

PETER OSGOOD of Cambridge is a retired teacher in Somerville schools.

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