I am standing by the Navel Orange bin, focused on picking just the right ones when I feel someone watching me. I look up and see a man walking towards me, his eyes focused intently on my face. I recognize him as he approaches. Smile and give him a wave.
“I know you,” he says. The rubber stopper on the bottom of his multi-coloured metallic cane makes a soft thump as he plants himself in front of me. “Why do I know you?”
I know him from the homeless shelter where I used to work.
In a public place like a grocery store, it’s not always caring of the other to tell them that.
“I was the spokesperson for the DI (the street name for the shelter where I used to work),” I tell him. “I was on television a lot. Maybe you recognize my face from there?”
He gives his head a quick shake from side to side. Then nods it up and down. “Yeah. That’s why I remember you. You were one of the nice ones.” He pauses, lifts his cane and thumps it on the ground. Not loudly. Just a gentle statement of fact to punctuate his words. “I didn’t like it there. Who could? Full of drunks and drug addicts. And the staff…”
He looks away.
“Glad I’m out of there now.” He finishes his statement and looks me in the eyes. “I’m gone you know.”
“So am I,” I tell him. “How are you doing?”
And he rushes into a story about an accident that broke his hip. A two month hospital stay. A landlord who ripped him off and a host of other sad events that have brought him down.
And I listen. It is all I can do. Listen. Deeply.
It is what he wants. Someone to listen to him. To give him space to give voice to his pain, his fears, his sorrow. And, his possibilities.
“I worked construction you know,” he tells me. “That’s over with now. But I can cook. Got a friend who’s got a friend who owns a restaurant that’s just opening up. Gonna go submit my resume. You could come visit if you want.” And he gives me the approximate location of the restaurant. “I can’t remember the name. But I’m sure you can’t miss it. It’s the pub right beside the gas station.”
I tell him that I’ll check it out.
“What I really need is better housing,” he says. “Someplace where I’m not sharing space with others. I talked to Calgary Housing but their wait list is too long.”
“Have you visited SORCe?” I ask.
And I explain about their ‘one stop shop’ concept of many agencies working out of one location to connect people to housing programs and services in order to end homelessness. I find a piece of paper, write down their number and pass it to him.
He’s excited. Another path to explore. Another possibility opening up.
We part and I am grateful for our encounter. He has reminded me of the importance of looking into someone, not just at them. It is a form of intimacy or, In-to-me-see. A way of honouring the human being through creating space for story-telling to happen, of listening to the stories that are shared with an open mind and loving heart and a belief in the sacredness of honouring the truths that are revealed when we take time to see and listen to the story-tellers.
I met a man at the grocery store.
He shared his story.
We parted, richer for the encounter.
This post is an edited repost of a blog that I wrote in 2012.