Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making Change


Make or become different: "a proposal to change the law"; "beginning to change from green to gold".
The act or instance of making or becoming different.
verb. alter - exchange - vary - shift - convert - transform

A primer for this entry:


I talked to a homeless man.

This happens relatively frequently, but the conversations are short, and usually end with "I don't have any change."

In this case, that was the beginning of the conversation. I walked about fifteen feet, thinking a few things over. I thought about the fact that Yuliya was still 10min from finishing work, and our bus was at least 15min away still. I also thought about the fact that I had a debit and credit card. I thought even more about the fact that Yuliya & I had discussed this, and said that we should make an effort to help more when we're confronted by people who want it.

So I turned around and came back, and offered to buy the two guys some coffee, as they were in the process of getting kicked out of the downtown skywalk (an indoor walkway that joins most buildings in downtown Winnipeg, popular with homeless people because they're heated)  by the BIZ redshirts (private security force funded by downtown businesses to suppress the visibility of social issues).

We crossed the street to Tim Horton's and I got them both a coffee, sandwich, and soup. They adamantly refused donuts. We sat down, and I called Yuliya to let her know where I was. She arrived and we chatted pleasantly with them for fifteen minutes. It turned out that they were from God's Lake Narrows. I asked if they knew Ronnie, whom I met last year in front of Subway.  They did, and asked if I had met Leonard. I hadn't. Their names were Rick and Thomas. Rick called himself Rick Flair, and Thomas was shy with a quick temper. The conversation drifted around aimlessly. I learned that Rick had been in the city a long time, had quit smoking at the age of 15, and that God's Lake Narrows was cursed. He said he was 49 now, and doing my math quickly, he must have come through the residential school system.

Then Rick asked me a good question.

"They told us that God was watching us all the time, and that everyone goes when they're supposed to. Is that true?"

It was rhetorical. He went on to explain that he had lost his brothers, brothers-in-law, parents, wife, sisters, and his daughters to the same disease in God's Lake Narrows - likely influenza. They all died in less than a decade.  He asked in a quiet, husky voice if I thought it was alright for a man to cry when that happens. Then he asked what happens to priests when they do bad things to women and children, and where they go when they die. He explained that he spends all day in the library reading history books, because it's warm there and free.

Soon after that we had to catch our bus. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the two of them. Losing everything in their lives twice - first their language, culture, and innocence in an intentionally hostile and inhospitable educational institution under the care of the servants of a loving, merciful God. The second time losing their families and hopes to an unknown epidemic under the watchful eyes of the elected servants of the people. I wondered at their determination to understand the past which destroyed their future, and what life can mean after that.

And I thought about the deeper implications of the common question - "Can you spare some change?" and the inevitable reply - "I don't have any change."


I wrote that just over two years ago, and it's a hard thing for me to revisit.  Those two taught me the true meaning of walking a mile in someone else's shoes.  The obvious and first question that comes to most people's mind when giving money to panhandlers is:

 "Will they drink this away?" 

I still ask myself that, and I hope they don't.  Sometimes I buy them lunch, but I often don't have time, and pass on some change, small bills, or bus tickets.  My answer to the question has become:

"Even if they do, what business is it of mine?"

I haven't lived their lives and had their struggles or pains.  If I was Rick or Thomas, and things conspired in a way that my entire family and way of life was destroyed before my eyes, I can't promise you now that I wouldn't dive into a bottle to numb the pain.  That's a lot to take on as human being.  So I try not to second guess the needs and requests of those in need, but not always successfully.  Nights like tonight I think about people like them - nights when it's -43c outside, and you see an ambulance picking up a body from the bus shelter in the morning.  I think some people like Rick and Thomas may be past the point of no return - their issues aren't mental health, or being junkies.  Life beat them down, and many that I have spoken to were just happy that someone took an interest in them, and weren't looking for miracles.

While this isn't really about our adoption, it is what our adoption is about in a way as well.  I want to have children to love, nurture, raise, and then unleash on the world.  No doubt about it, but it's also about the realization that my life is blessed, and yes, I can always spare some change.

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring post. Makes me think twice before saying " I don't have any change". Thank you:)