It is 6:30am and Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I are just on our way from our early morning walk. I turn the corner from the main avenue onto the street that leads to the cul de sac where we live when I see a man at the intersection further ahead, the one that leads into our little community along the river.
He crosses the street towards Beau and I, sees us, stops, stretches as if casually releasing a kink in his back and then turns left and slowly begins to walk along the avenue leading away from our cul de sac. He goes a few feet. Stops and begins to twist and turn his body as if stretching during a jog.
I am curious about his presence. He doesn’t look like a jogger. He looks dishevelled. Possibly under the influence. Suspicious.
I keep walking, turn into our cul de sac. The neighbour who lives at the corner, opens his front door. He is holding his cell phone in one hand as he calls out to me. “Get in here,” he says. And he waves his hand quickly, desperately trying to get my attention.
I stop and look at him. He waves again and repeats. “Get in here. Quickly.”
Beaumont and I walk into his house. His dog, a beautiful big brown lab, is locked behind a door. Barking.
Beau looks a bit bemused by it all. He sniffs and pulls towards the door from where he can hear the barking.
My neighbour says, “There’s a guy with a brick in his hand. I’m on the phone with police. I woke up to him pounding on my windows.”
“The guy in the beige t-shirt and baggy sweatpants?” I ask.
And my neighbour keeps talking to the police while watching out his front window for the man.
“He walked away down the avenue,” I tell him. “Going east.”
He relays the information to the police.
Just then, the man in the beige t-shirt and baggy pants comes back into view, walking back towards our cul de sac.
“There’s nothing in his hands,” I tell my neighbour.
I watch him. His walk is unsteady. He steps into the middle of the intersection, bends down and scoops up the brick he’d been carrying before. He must have dropped it when he saw me walking up the street with Beau.
The man stands in the middle of the intersection. Undecided. He starts to walk further into the entrance to our cul de sac.
I go back outside. Beau goes with me.
“Excuse me,” I call out to the man. “Are you okay?”
He stops, looks at me where I stand on my neighbours front porch. He is standing in the middle of the road, about 30ft away.
“Are you?” he asks somewhat belligerently.
“I am,” I reply. “But I’m concerned about you. Are you okay?
He looks at me again. Kind of shrugs, shakes his shoulders. He starts to back away into the intersection.
“You might want to put the brick down,” I call out. “It scares people when they see someone walking around with a brick in their hand.”
He turns his back and begins to walk back along the avenue, away from me, brick in hand.
Because of construction on the main road, there is only parking on one side of the street along which he walks. I watch him toss the brick onto the street, away from the parked cars on the other side.
He turns to look back at me and gives me the not so nice high five finger before walking unsteadily away. I realize he’s probably not drunk. He is suffering from a condition that affects his ability to walk steadily.
I thank my neighbour for looking out for my safety and Beau and I walk home carrying the image of that man and his brick.
Was the brick to break in or to help him feel safe?
By his body language when I asked if he was okay, he was not accustomed to someone being concerned for his welfare.
He also didn’t like people watching him, suspiciously.
He was angry.
Trying really hard to be scary.
More than anything he looked lost. Broken. Beaten down.
And my heart feels heavy.
See, that man with the brick. He was Indigenous. His black hair was tied in a pony tail that ran down his back all the way to his waist.
And yes, walking around a quiet neighbourhood with a brick in your hand, pounding on windows is not a good, nor legal, thing to do.
But, when I called out to him and asked if he was okay, he answered. When I suggested he put down the brick because it scared people, he did.
I don’t believe he was a bad man doing bad things. He was a desperate human being doing desperate things to ease his pain.
It doesn’t make what he was doing right. Pounding on windows is not a good thing to do. Nor is carrying a brick in your hand.
What is a good thing, however, is to see him through the lens of a human being, a man carrying a brick and a long history of pain and suffering that has brought him to this place where he walks around carrying a brick.
It doesn’t change that what he was doing was wrong. It does make me feel less afraid and more compassionate about his plight.
And so, I say a prayer for that man. I pray for him relief and comfort from the burdens he carries. And, I pray for him a safer, kinder road forward.
And I pray for me, and all my neighbours, the same.
There is an addendum to this story.
When I returned from the garden centre later this morning, the man with the brick was standing at the entrance to our cul de sac with another man and the woman who does her 15,000 steps every day walking the hill.
He had frightened her earlier by throwing the brick close to her feet and had come back in the hopes of finding his bike, which got lost sometime last night, and…
I stopped to speak with the trio where they stood at our entrance and he asked me, “Did you see me?” Did you see my bike?”
I talked with you, I told him and went on to tell him of our exchange.
“I am so sorry for scaring you,” he said. “I could have hurt you.”
I don’t believe you would have, I told him. I don’t believe that is your heart.
He also wanted to apologize to my neighbour at the corner but he was out, so I promised to relay his message.
“I don’t remember much,” he said. “I was so drunk. I must have passed out in the woods along the river and when I came to, my bike was gone and I was all messed up.”
And then he said, “If you ever see me drunk walking around here, promise you’ll tell me to go home.”
And I replied, “I will.”
It took great courage for him to come back and apologize. Great courage and heart.