On my walk to work, I find myself lost in my Audiobook; Napoleon continues to pursue the retreating Russians, he wants a decisive victory to end the war, but they won’t give it to him. Instead, his line stretches ever thinner. Napoleon’s exhausted Grand Army is marching eastward right into a trap. How come one of the greatest military strategists in human history doesn’t see this for what it is?
My thoughts are interrupted by a homeless woman motioning dramatically for my attention. I pause the story and pull out my earbuds. I assume the woman will ask for money, so I mentally prepare my standard answer about not having any cash. But money is not what she’s after this frosty morning.
“Excuse me, did you sit on some sugar?” she asks, concern etched on her face. “No, I don’t think so,” I tell her, instinctively giving my backside a brush and tilting my head backward to try to locate the problem.
She says, a largely toothless grin forming on her face. Her eyes are bright with life now. Satisfied with her humour, she chortles to herself and walks off.
Later that day, I was interviewing a prospective tenant at the Manor. He had fled the Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990s and had bounced around North America for the last 30 years. A health crisis, combined with some bad luck and poor choices, had landed this guy in a homeless shelter, his broken-down body now confined to a ministry-provided scooter. Often guys in his situation are bitter and angry, lashing out to blame everyone else for the mess they are in. Not so with this man. In a loud, heavily accented voice, he fairly screeched out his gratitude.
He simply couldn’t get over his good fortune. The ministry provided the scooter, paid his rent each month, and gave him a 900 dollar monthly stipend to spend however he wished. He was overwhelmed with appreciation.
Each day because of where I live and work, I witness bitter, ugly, and angry struggles. I see entitlement, despair, addiction, filth, and hopelessness far more often than I want to. But not today. Instead, I beheld humour and gratitude of the finest quality from two unlikely sources. These two gifts filled me with laughter and helped me feel a profound sense of appreciation for the many goodnesses I have in my own life.
Thank you, homeless woman.
Thank you, destitute refugee.
You have taught me well.