The last time I saw him he was not looking good. I feared for him. Knew there was not a lot I could do to change the trajectory of his life and so I prayed for him that he find comfort and ease no matter where he was.
And then, he turned 65.
“My old age pension kicked in,” he told me on Friday when he dropped by my office for a visit, and to take me to lunch.
Originally he was coming for a coffee. When he called me in the morning to see if I had time for a visit, “I have lots of exciting things to tell you,” he said, I looked at my jam-packed day and didn’t see how I could do it.
But, I know this man. To try to set another date would not work. He wouldn’t call the next day as promised, not because he wouldn’t want to but rather, because he lives in the immediacy of now and to put him off would translate to, ‘she doesn’t want to have a coffee with me’.
I had no means of getting in touch with him. He doesn’t have a cell phone, nor a home phone.
He is homeless.
A veteran of the streets, he has lived for over 20 years at Calgary’s largest single’s homeless shelter.
In the end, he was late for our coffee date but in time for lunch.
“Do you want to walk over to the coffee shop at the corner?” I asked him when he arrived.
“Why don’t I buy you lunch instead?” he queried.
“You don’t have to buy me lunch” I replied.
“I want to,” was his simple answer.
Leaving his backpack in my office, we walked down the block to a cafeteria style restaurant in an office tower down the block.
Together we examined the food selections as staff and some customers checked us out. We made an interesting couple. A grey-haired woman in business attire and an older, visibly homeless, man.
When he’d arrived at my office I was relieved to see how much better he was looking. When I complemented him on his fresh haircut and trim mustache, he told me about turning 65 and getting his monthly cheque.
“I’ve got a counsellor working on getting me housed,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a slow process but I’m in no rush. I kind of like it where I’m at.”
Where he’s at is sleeping every night on a mat in the shelter’s Intox area, all his possessions in a backpack or stuffed inside a small locker. There are two keys to his locker. He has one, staff of the shelter the other.
I have known him for over 12 years. One of the first artists to come to the art program I started at the shelter when I worked there years ago, he is incredibly talented and vulnerable. Gentle of heart, a questing mind, he is proud. Sensitive and single-minded.
Once, while driving him to a play he was involved in he told me he wasn’t going to go through with it.
“No one understands,” he told me. “And they definitely don’t care.”
As we drove and I listened to his story of how the Director didn’t ‘get him’ and the whole thing about being involved in the play was futile, I asked him to tell me the lines he had written for his part in the play.
“I am a father, son, brother, uncle, friend. I am a carpenter, an artist, musician, poet. I laugh. I cry. I smile. I bleed. Which of these are diminished because I am human?”
“You will never get anyone to understand if you do not speak up,” I told him. “And if they do not hear your story, how will they learn to care?”
He continued on with that play and went on to perform in many others, including in the off-Broadway production of Requiem for a Lost Girl in New York City.
He almost chose to not go to New York too. He was having challenges getting his passport and wanted to give up on the whole adventure. I went to the passport office with him and supported him as he completed the process. That trip was one of the highlights of his life.
We all want to quit sometimes. To say, ‘why bother?’.
What this man has taught me is that fear is always present. When we reach out to others, when we step into our fears, into the broken places of our lives, the fear is still present, but it is diminished in our not being alone. In that place, anything can happen, including miracles.
On Friday, a man bought me lunch.
We chatted and laughed together. I showed him pictures of my daughters and grandson. He shared stories of his world today. Of his ‘trap line’, the regular route he travels everyday to collect bottles for extra cash. About those who save bottles just for him, about the restaurants along his route who make sure to separate the bottles from the trash and those who don’t. He talked about old times and his hopes for the future, his dream of once again being involved in Requiem for a Lost Girl should it be remounted. And the possibility of getting a home.
In sharing time together I was reminded once again how fortunate and blessed I am to do the work I do, to have had the opportunity to walk this path with so many beautiful hearts.
I had lunch with a man of Friday.
He reminded me of how beautiful the world is, no matter what side of the street we are on, when we walk together and share the stories of our lives.
I am grateful.