When I worked in an adult emergency homeless shelter, amidst the joy and laughter, the lights and decorations that adorn this time of year in the rosy glow of family gatherings and festive delights, the air was also filled with the sadness of loneliness and the heavy despair of homelessness.
For those without a place to call home, finding joy always came shrouded in the memories of joy lost, connections broken, family circles torn apart by poverty, addiction, violence and loss.
One year, we invited clients to share holiday messages to post on our website. I was always in awe of how excited those who participated were to have a chance to reach out to family and friends and let them know they were thinking of them and wishing them well.
One of those individuals was Zahir. His nickname was ‘Happy’ because he could always be counted on to lighten even the darkest moments with his laughter.
Zahir was diagnosed with a mental illness when his daughter was three. He was exiled from the family home and his community and began a long journey through homelessness.
He was in his 50s when we did a video story with Zahir one Christmas. We wanted to show the human side of homelessness. To help those who had never experienced it or judged the shelter and those experiencing homelessness, find compassion and understanding for those who used the shelter as their respite.
This video had an even more important purpose which would only be revealed several months later when I received a letter from a woman who had never given up searching for the father she’d lost when she was 3 years old.
As a child, she’d been forbidden from seeing or searching for, her father. As an adult, she made it her mission to find him. One of the things she did constantly, was search the websites of emergency shelters across Canada in the hopes of finding him. In her letter, she told me it was a miracle she stumbled across our video. She had started to give up hope of ever finding her father.
Zahir and his by-then 30-something daughter were reunited. At that reunion, Zahir got to meet his 2-year-old granddaughter and learned that he would be a grandfather again later that same year.
Zahir, despite his daughter’s requests he come live with them in another city, would not leave the shelter. It was the world he knew. And, though he never met his second grandchild, when Zahir passed away later that year, he was a very happy man. He had met the daughter he’d never lost hope of one day seeing again.
In the darkness of homelessness, Zahir held onto hope and loving-kindness.
May we all do the same.
This is the video that sparked the miracle of Zahir and his daughter’s reunion.