Back in February I was walking to the Eaton Centre to do some shopping before my trip to Florida. On my way I saw a homeless person bundled up in a pile of blankets over a heating grate.
I continued to walk on, as homeless people are pretty common in Toronto. But then I remembered this lovely blog and my challenge to live like a tourist. So, what if I was from a place where homelessness was a rare occurrence? What would I feel? How would I act? I looked at him again and saw bare feet poking out from the bottom of his yellow blanket.
As I walked on and thought about my shopping list (bikini, beach towel, travel-size shampoo and conditioner), guilt started to settle in. That’s when I decided I would buy him a pair of socks.
Just the thought of helping him lifted my mood instantly. I felt re-energized and smiled as I did my shopping (quite the feat for a Saturday afternoon at the Eaton Centre).
Once at the mall, I got lost in a whirlhind of bikinis, hair products and bootcut jeans. Everything was on sale, and I even got a free pair of sunglasses. It was one of the most successful shopping trips I’ve ever had. For my final stop I went to the food court to get a salad…. then remembered the man outside who had no salad or socks.
Fuck. I am such a fraud. Here I was, pretending to care about this guy and I couldn’t even remember his frozen feet as I pranced around fitting rooms and gave myself props for how awesomely my new jeans fit.
Then I saw a SportChek by the food court. I went in and ended up buying these bad boys, a ridiculous $20 pair of high-end hiking socks.
Probably better suited for strolls through the Himalayan mountains than a sidewalk in Toronto, but hey. Never know when the polar vortex will rear its ugly head again.
After I bought the socks and my salad I walked back to Queen Street. Then I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. Instead of walking past a homeless person and averting my gaze, I marched right up to him and looked into his eyes.
“Hi. I got these for you.”
He had his blanket pulled up so high that I could only see his eyes, which blinked back in disbelief for a second, before he uttered “Thank you very much.” Though the blanket muffled his words, the tone was unmistakably grateful. I felt so happy and awkward and all sorts of things. All I could do was stammer, “You’re welcome. Stay warm,” and then bolted like I had committed a crime.
It felt so good just to acknowledge him as a fellow human being who was in need – even if just to be shown kindness for a moment. It wasn’t about the socks. I wanted to show him that he hadn’t been forgotten. That people do notice and care, and are moved to act. Sure, my ratio of acts I did for another and acts I did for myself were about 1 to 423, but at least there’s 1. And that’s more than I can say for most days.
When I got home I realized that in my excitement I had forgotten to stop by the foreign exchange for American money. (Crap. Make that 1 to 424.)
At first I was annoyed but then smiled. I realized that, even if just for a moment, I had remembered him and forgotten myself.