Saturday, December 24, 2011

How to Really Share the Christmas Spirit

I walk a neighbour's dog. He is a lovely and friendly creature and for some reason people in the neighbourhood want to stop and chat and get their hands licked by said doggie. One of the people with whom I chat is a gentleman who lives in a nearby park . I have seen him several times, sitting on a sunny bench and doing crossword puzzles. Beside him is his transportation - a shopping cart loaded with all his worldly possessions. A tarp, a ground sheet, two sleeping bags, miscellaneous supplies and cooking utensils. And two or three extra large plastic bags loaded with the daily haul of pop cans and bottles. From this he earns his income. What always strikes me is his dignity and his gentle manner. He is always clean, his white hair brushed and pulled back into a pony tail, his beard well-groomed.

I asked him once whether he stayed in a shelter and he said no, the shelters are not always safe from predators. He can't afford to lose anything. so he lives in the park in a secret place that is protected from the weather. One week he wasn't at his usual bench and I was worried that something had happened to him. The following week he was back, looking very weak. Two brave and class-act young men had been walking around with a can of pepper spray, zapping homeless people. My friend was one of their victims. He managed to get help but his lungs were affected and he ended up with pneumonia and had massive doses of penicillin. Wouldn't stay in hospital though - didn't want to lose his worldly possessions.

Once a week, he helps the trash collectors roll the big garbage bins out of the apartment blocks. In exchange, he gets to rummage around and take any refundable bottles and cans. He performs a function much needed in our wasteful society, as do many of the homeless men and women who rummage around in our leavings - tools, small furnishings, old clothes, anything that may still have some monetary or exchange value. I respect their independence and dignity, their friendliness and their courage in the face of illness, aggression, scorn and derision. 

So while the rest of us are enjoying turkey with all the trimmings and the pleasure of watching loved ones open that Christmas present they really really wanted - take a few minutes to set aside a small collection of cash, maybe a scarf or sweater you no longer wear and perhaps make a nice big turkey sandwich and go search out one of those folks who clean up after us. And thank them for the valuable work they do in the community.

That's how you really share the Christmas Spirit.
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