Friday, December 23, 2005


Here are a couple of little stories from real life on a subject which rarely enters my fiction. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe the subject matter is just a little too real for my liking.

1. So, in my line of work it's required that I interact with a lot of Calgary's homeless. In the past, I found it too easy to paint them all with the same brush. I'd see a guy my age begging for change, perfectly healthy, and I'd say: "Why would I give him money? Has he not all the same opportunities that I do." I'd see a young woman wearing rags, high on meth, and I'd say: "Why doesn't she seek help? Are there not a dozen places in the city offering?" I'd see an old man drunk and crazy, standing on the corner, yelling at passing cars, and I'd say: "He's made his choices." Well, this is the first job I've had where I've been required to actually interact with the homeless. I work amongst them. I'm getting to know a few of them. I'm starting to understand that I don't understand at all.

A few weeks ago, I was in a busy train station in the middle of the night, when I saw a young native girl, maybe fifteen years old, sitting in the corner scribbling something on the floor with a Sharpie. Knees tucked up to her chest, a ratty backpack by her side, she could have been a student. That is, she could have been a student if it looked like her clothes had ever been washed. If she didn't look so sad. A few hours later, passing through the station again, I noticed the girl was gone, and I went over to have a look at what she wrote. It was a lot:

I'm tired of being homeless
I'm tired of sleeping on the street
in these stations
in the cold

I'm tired of being tired

I'm tired of eating



I'm tired of abusing



I'm so tired of being homeless
I don't know how to NOT be



2. Last night, I was at this same train station when I saw a rough looking homeless guy in his late thirties leaning over one of the regulars, an old man in his sixties. The old man was in even worse shape than usual, drunk on something, crying, trying to stand but unable. Seeing me, the younger guy, also very drunk, came over to chat. Turns out he's a recent addition to the homeless population due to a combination of alcohol and gambling addictions. It also turns out that he was beaten and robbed the other night while out on a bender, and was trying to get the old man to go to a shelter. "I gave him my boots and gloves," the guy said. "I just want him to be okay. He should stay warm, I think. Trying to help, that's all."

I nodded, and looked down at the younger guy's feet which were now clad in a pair of worn sneaks. "But what about you," I asked, "are you going to be okay? Surely, you'll freeze."

"I'll be fine," he said. "I've been worse off."

"But you just gave away your boots," I pointed out, needlessly.

He nodded. "But I also know that if I try, I can sober up for a couple days, work, and earn enough money for another pair. Knowing that, I'm already better off than that guy."

With that, he turned and walked back to the old man, and kneeling next to him, once more gave him directions to the nearest homeless shelter. Then, he set down a pack of cigarets, a half bottle of some amber liquid, and all the money in his pockets. Before he walked out the door into the night, he turned and waved to me. "A merry Christmas to you," he said. And he smiled. He actually smiled.

I started thinking about the thousands of dollars people spend at Christmastime to show their love. The dollars spent. Blowing the budget. The near-thoughtless purchasing of products. Rote spending, increasing year by year. I started thinking about all the numbers, and started thinking about how, maybe, this guy understands Christmas better than most people. He didn't think about the numbers. He didn't budget. He gave everything he had to someone in greater need than himself. He just gave everything, and walked away. He didn't give with the hope of getting something in return. He didn't give to look good in the eyes of another. He just gave. And he wished me a merry Christmas.


I'd like to wish a merry Christmas to those dedicated readers who still come by to check on this infrequently updated page. Your continued support is much appreciated. Here's wishing you the best in the New Year. I'll be back soon.

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