Last week on my blissful day off, the boyfriend and I decided we needed to get out of dodge and head for the big city. Or at least, a bigger city.
After our meal, we bundled up against the cold and strolled around the park where boyfriend pretended to push the military tribute tank while I pretended not to know him and watched the skaters.
The tableau of kids and adults alike, playing on the ice in front of the bandshell was a familiar one. The usual blur of neon snowpants, parents crouched in the endless task of lacing and unlacing skates and the one or two beautiful skaters who manage to look like something out of a Christmas Cookie tin despite having to avoid the inevitable rainbow explosion of snowsuit collisions.
It wasn't until we rounded the bandshell and headed back to the car that I noticed a far less idyllic scene. Walking briskly towards us was a young man in a threadbare sweater. He had no mitts or hat and I realized with a shock that what he was walking quickly away from was the garbage bin behind on the other side of the bandshell.
By the time I had absorbed what I had seen and what it meant, the man was gone. With no cash on me and no knowledge about London shelters, I don't suppose I could have done much anyway and it's not as though he was sitting there with a sign. It's not like he actually asked for my help. Still, I felt shaken.
It's just that I hadn't seen anyone desperately hungry enough to scrounge through a garbage can for food since I lived in the really big city. It's certainly not something I've come across in my current corner of rural Canada. And even in the city, I never got used to seeing people sleeping on the streets. I wound up carrying around granola bars in my purse to hand out to anyone on my route to work who looked particularly hungry. As futile a gesture as this undoubtedly was, I couldn't just walk by and see these people every day, and not be moved to do something, even if it was a small something.
And the more I did it, the harder it became not to because every time I timidly offered food, I had to stop and really acknowledge that I was interacting with a fellow human being, not just some part of the urban landscape.
I like to think that if I'd stayed longer than the three months it took to complete my internship there, I would have found a better way to make a contribution.
So I guess what shocked me about seeing this man, was the realization of how easy it has been not to think about these people and their lives, now that they're not directly in my line of sight. I suppose the best I can do from where I am is support the local United Way and send some letters government way.
Any other ideas?