Even though I don’t officially celebrate Christmas, I can’t escape it. The lobby of my building looks like a garland factory explosion and the stores are packed to the rafters with harried shoppers marching like zombies to the beat of the The Little Drummer Boy. That’s how I know it’s time to do my annual schtick about those in need.
There’s a man who lives in my neighbourhood, I guess him to be in his early thirties. For the sake of privacy let’s call him Leo. He sits under a large beautiful tree in the now cold and unrelenting rain watching people come in and out of the shops and cafés; watching people sipping their mochalattewhatsits on the Starbucks patio; watching people wander about with their bags of organic produce and fresh cut flowers. People who have soft, cozy beds and many coats; people who have stainless steel refrigerators bursting with food—people like me.
Over the last two months, Leo and I have become friendly. He is a smiley, soft spoken guy; his clothes have seen better days and likely haven’t seen a washing machine in a very long time. He sits outside a convenience store and any time I meet him there I ask him to come along and pick out what he would like. I don’t know much about him, other than the fact that he likes vanilla flavoured Carnation Instant Breakfast drinks and bags of mini mint Aero bars. I also know that he finds shelters scary as every time he stays there, he gets robbed.
Most of my career has been spent with people living in poverty, too many children to count. Here in B.C. we have the highest rate of child poverty in the country. And for me, the holiday season serves only to highlight the challenges faced by the homeless and working poor, which is the main reason I’ve opted out of the whole merry madness. I try to do what I can—donations to the food banks, an extra loonie in a paper cup, a deeper dig through the closet for anything that can be surrendered, a little toy for a local charity, and I’m asking you to do the same. There’s always some small thing to be found that can make a big difference for a fellow man, woman or child.
This year I’ve decided to put together a gift package for my neighbour. So far I have a thick wool sweater that was gathering dust in Neil’s dresser drawer. I’m going to bag up some bananas and oranges, buy a couple of bus passes, and throw in a bit of cash. Maybe he’ll spend it on food, maybe he’ll spend it on booze or drugs, either way it’s no business of mine.
The last time I came upon him I called behind me, “C’mon Leo, let’s see what we can find.” He bolted up like a shot, exclaiming, “Oh, I’m a lucky man.” Maybe so, but really I’m the lucky soul in our duo, reminded how important it is to be grateful for what we have and how far small kindnesses can reach. Thanks Leo.