Street Neighbours

Crucifix photo by Sarah Buckley, via Flickr Creative Commons

Crucifix photo by Sarah Buckley, via Flickr Creative Commons


On my walk today I came across two homeless men who touched my heart. One gave me a kick in the stereotyping patoot. As I drew near him I saw his two huge bags of cans. The bottle depot is only a few blocks from where he sat so I knew his destination. But I was struck by the amount of work it took to find so many cans. At five cents apiece, they would have netted him, at most, $4 or $5 dollars for what must have been many hours of work.

It was not the cans that whacked me in the unintended stereotypes I carry. It was the music. He was listening to a battery powered radio. His choice of music? Classical.

The man’s musical preference should not have surprised me, but it did. I’m not sure what I expected. Rock maybe? Country? But not classical, and I am grateful to the man for his choice. He whacked me in my left-leaning mind, reminding me I am as caught up in stereotypes as anyone else, though I try hard to avoid them.

The other man will haunt me for a long time to come. He was sitting beside the library. We made eye contact. Seeing his scab-dotted face I asked him, “Were you in a fight?”

None of my business, I know, but I was startled.

“No,” he said. “I was hit by a car at Bernard and Ellis.” That was two blocks from where he was sitting.

“It could have been a lot worse, but God protected me. When I got out of the hospital, I asked the guy at the shelter to do me a favour. I asked him to send the brass cross I was wearing to my daughter. She was raped when she was 16 years old. My ex said she shouldn’t have been where she was, like it was her fault. My 12-year-old was so upset she slit her wrists.” After his near-death accident in downtown Kelowna, he sent his cross to the daughter who had been raped.

The next quarter of an hour was almost surreal. The First Nations man talks with God. That part was not surreal. My mother was so tuned into the Universal Soul she also talked with what she thought of as God. When someone like this man tells me he talks with God, I do not doubt it. I remember my mother and accept his reality.

But what raked away the protective covering over my heart was that God no longer talks to him. He still watches over the man. Chester (that’s his real name, in case you meet him) knows that. The car would have killed him otherwise. So he is left with a quandary. Is there something he is not doing that God wants of him? Or is there something he is doing that God wants him to stop?

I listened and empathized but had no answers. When I turned to go, he took my hand and held onto it. He was not finished with his story. And until he finished, he did not let go of my hand.

The Chesters of the world haunt me. They remind me that, whatever sorrows I have endured, I have, on the whole, lived a life full of gifts. These gifts have kept food on my table, comfortable shelter around me, friends to love me. The gifts come with responsibilities. I do not have a lot of money to make things better for the Chesters. But I do have compassion. That is a gift I can share freely. It will not make his life better in the long run, but perhaps, for a few short moments, he will know that someone believes he can find his way out of the thorny labyrinth in which he feels so trapped.

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