He is tall, thin and thinly dressed with a bushy beard. I first saw him through the glare of my windshield. His face was gaunt. He looked dirty. He stood tall but alone in the frigid dark night of a cold Canadian winter. He was homeless.
I first saw this distant stranger walking in traffic passing me and other drivers sitting in their cars waiting for the red light to turn green before making a left turn.
I figured that my maximum exposure to this man would be the average length of a red light. So, for approximately the next 120 seconds I figured that I could wait patiently and ignore him. Although the time would move slowly, I would soon drive away – comfy and cozy in my car.
Unlike in Africa, Canadian homeless people don’t even try to sell you something. They just beg. Honestly – how unambitious! Why can’t they just TRY to give you something in return? At least I’d buy a travel pack of Kleenex or a pack of gum… something, anything.
In most of the rest of the world, the ‘ambitious’ homeless strangers actually try to sell you something. But in Toronto? They just stand there… staring at you, waiting for a free handout.
I didn’t want to make eye contact. My strategy was to look straight-ahead at the brake lights in front of me. But there was something different about this stranger. He wasn’t lying on the sidewalk looking up from a distressed sleeping bag. He was standing in the freezing cold, bearing the brunt of a very dark and windy night. That captivated me because I could hardly believe it. And then before I knew it, our eyes met.
There was something in those eyes that pulled me closer. Maybe his shining loneliness resonated with my own. I rolled the window down and the chill of the night grabbed me as I placed a five-dollar bill in his hand and planted a smile in his heart. Then, I rolled the window back up.
I had about 60 seconds left before I expected the light to turn. My friend returned. He motioned for me to roll my window down again. Reluctantly, I acquiesced. He didn’t want to ask for anything else. He wanted to give me something. It wasn’t a travel pack of Kleenex and it wasn’t a pack of gum, it was a joke about a blonde girl and the thrill of sharing a warm-hearted laugh and a moment of love after a long day.
So, why was the blonde girl sitting on the roof?
Someone told her drinks were on the house.
Thank you to my friend. Thank you for sharing your humor with me. Thank you for reminding me that our human mission is to relieve the loneliness of others.
If you see a homeless stranger, stop. Give them a dollar. Ask if they have a joke for you. Ask them about their story, about how they brave the cold, or how they get through the day. Move from distant stranger to friend. Wait for them to show you what they can give to you… maybe it’s a joke and maybe you’ll laugh.
It didn’t take long before the light turned green. I turned left and drove along my journey lifted up, but wishing that the red light lasted a little longer.