Who Have We Become?
Every day I walk the streets of this city. Everyday my heart breaks. It breaks for the woman drying her towel on the subway vent, the old man eating cat food and the street kid that finds warmth and comfort at the library. Everyday we walk past these souls; we pass by as if it was completely normal to sleep on the street using the heat from a subway grate to keep warm.
Have you ever stopped to think about why these individuals are here in the first place? Have you ever taken the time to stop and ask why? Or are we all busy wrapped up In our self indulgent lives to feel for another human being? We fight daily about the stereotyping of races, sexual orientation and social class, why are the people of our streets any different? Why are we harder on those that have lost everything?
Every day I pass by an elderly gentleman who sits on the corner of university and queen, let’s call him Henry. Chances are you have seen him with his sign that reads “We are all different; please see us as individuals with our own story.”
I used to walk by, smile, and carry onward to work. After a week, that smile was joined with a nod and slight tilt of my head. After a month, I started to notice whether or not he was there. If that street corner was empty, I would feel a hard pit in the bottom of my stomach. A horrible worried feeling would consume me, wondering if everything was okay. This must be how parents feel when they lose sight of their child for a quick second.
Most often I would leave the house with my lunch for the day, but end up at work without it. Then I began to pack two lunches, one for myself and one for my new friend. I found myself leaving the house wondering if he will be in his usual spot. I started to fantasize about what his life was like before he ended up on the street.
One day, I decided enough was enough, I needed to know… I left 20 minutes earlier then I usually did and headed towards University and Queen. He wasn’t there. I walked by and was left worried and upset. “Today was the day…” I thought to myself.
A week passed and I was taking different routes to work and working wild hours at the store and for myself; I forgot about Henry. It was a Sunday, and I had to open the store. Naturally, I was tired and was running late. I ran out the door, forgetting my lunch, my keys and running shoes. I walked my usual route, head in my phone, and music blasting in my headphones. As I waited for the light to change at Bay and Queen I saw someone sitting at the corner of University. I reached for my bag and noticed I forgot my lunch. I felt defeated; I couldn’t ask him a personal question without offering anything… I remembered a gift card to Fresh that my boss had given me. I frantically searched my wallet for the card as I crossed the street.
With the gift card in hand, I knelt in front of him. “Here, this is for you, I think there’s about 25 dollars on there, it’s all vegan food, you’ll really like it.” He looked at me like I had 8 heads; he rose to stand and looked me in the eye. Tears formed and I received the biggest bear hug I’ve had in a number of years. There I was— standing in the middle of Toronto hugging a complete stranger with tears running down my face.
Four years ago Henry had a well paying construction job. One day, while working in the backyard, Henry broke his leg. He was unable to work and couldn’t get anyone else to help him. He lost his home and was too embarrassed to reach out to family due to a falling out many years prior. His leg never healed properly and he is unable to do much physical activity. This hinders his ability to just go and “get a job”.
I asked him what his days were like, “Oh probably just like yours, some are bad, some are good,” he responded. “Mostly I just feel alone and invisible. Society see’s us as all the same, as if we are painted with the same brush. But you get used to the looks and the snickers… I know who I am, and that’s all that matters really.”
I walked to work last Thursday and Henry wasn’t there. He wasn’t there on Friday, Saturday or Sunday either. The optimist in me thinks maybe he finally reached out to family members, or was able to find a job. My inner pessimist would rather not think about the alternative. To me Henry was an intelligent guy and saved me just when I was starting to let this city consume me of my sensitivity.
Please take a second out of your day and smile to those around you. Be compassionate, for life is often hard and not everyone has the ability to be as strong as you are.