I am at the park for my early morning walk with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle. He has attempted to demonstrate to a little grey fluff ball of a dog that he is boss. The fluff ball will have none of Beau’s nonsense.
I call Beaumont to my side. “He truly does not know his size,” I say to the woman walking with the fluff ball. “I’m sorry he acted so inconsiderately.”
The woman leans on her walking cane, laughs and tells me not to worry. “She’s 13. She takes no guff from nobody.”
I thank her for her understanding and am about to turn away when she says, “I know you. You look really familiar.”
I turn back towards her and look at her weathered face closely. I don’t think I know her but my memory for faces is often suspect.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
I tell her and she smiles, nods her head and says, “I knew I knew you!” And she mentions an agency I did some consulting for several years ago. It’s a social services agency providing housing and supports for Calgarians facing physical and mental barriers. Many of their clients are housed through Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.
I am surprised she recognizes me. It’s a bright but chilly morning. I am wearing sunglasses and a toque pulled low on my forehead.
I say, “Wow. What a great memory.”
She laughs, picks up her cane and waves it in the air as she replies. “My body may be falling apart but at 63 I’ve still got my faculties about me.”
She goes on to tell me about her mom who, at 95, still drives and lives on her own in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. “Though she is thinking it’s time she gave up driving.”
I tell her about my mom, who when she died at 97 last year, was still intellectually sharp, though her physical health was decimated by arthritis.
She looks at me and says, “When you get to be my age you’ll be grateful for your mom’s sound mind too.”
I do not tell her I am five years older than she is. I also don’t tell her I am surprised by her age. Looking at her weathered and lined face I would have given her at least 10 – 12 more years.
And I wonder if what I see is the price of poverty, of a life lived on the margins and its constant struggle to make every dollar and cent stretch to meet a month with too many days. Of worry and strain and fear of one more mishap leading to the last place you want to go, a homeless shelter.
Because I do remember her. Not from the agency that provides housing for her now. I remember her from the adult homeless shelter where I used to work. She wasn’t there long. An adult, predominantly male homeless shelter, is not a particularly safe environment for a woman. Once in, getting out is the number one priority for most women.
But it can be difficult. Especially for ‘older’ women. Lack of education, lack of work experience make it difficult to divine a way back out beyond the shelter’s doors. Compounded by a life time of living on the margins, divorce, death of a spouse, spousal abuse, loss of health and/or an addiction, what little emotional, physical or financial reserves women had are stripped away, leaving them exposed to not just homelessness, but the hopelessness that walks in its every step.
This woman was one of the fortunate ones. She connected to the appropriate supports and is hanging on to them with every breath and every step she takes.
As I sit at my desk this morning looking out at the beauty of my environment, the green/golden leaves of autumn not yet ready to fall, the river flowing past beneath a cerulean sky, I think about my life and the lives of other women in my cohort.
Our privilege is subtle, but it is there. It creates a natural anti-aging barrier that keeps it from lining our faces with worry and stress, aging us beyond our years. It gave us options throughout our lives that women like the woman at the park probably never had – access to education and training, access to gyms and massages and facials and so much more. It allowed us to choose between a live-in or live-out nanny because we could afford to pay for what we wanted. It filled our fridges with an abundance of foods that left us free of having to make the difficult decisions of whether to send our children to school with a breakfast in their belly or have a dinner for them on the table that night.
It opened doors to career-paths of our choice. Because, if we chose to work or stay at home, if we took a minimum wage job or a second part-time one, it wasn’t out of necessity. It was our choice.
For too many women, the deck they were dealt is weighed down by poverty and its limited choices. Full hands are rare and under the weight of of poverty’s pervasive nature, every card played can take you out of the game, leaving you empty-handed, fighting for your survival.
I met a woman at the park this morning. She reminded me how blessed and fortunate I am to live this life of mine.
I am grateful she is safe now.
I am grateful she touched my life.
I am grateful for it all.