stories. another central ingredient in this trip. as we walked (and walked and walked), we shared in stories. some were unspoken as we watched people on the street peddling for food or weed, sleeping on a street corner bed, laughing with their child on the swing. others were loud and dramatic. we told each other our own stories, and began to understand what it means to hold someone’s pain with tender hands. these are just a few of the stories i gathered.
we set down recovery road, as it’s called, on our way to the park. this is a very broken street where addicts seek shelter. buildings are dilapidated and misused and trash is strewn about, which is truly a unique sight in such a clean city.
immediately, a young man began walking beside us. he told us not to step on his feet and i began to question why. when he told me i didn’t want to get too close because he smelled, i intentionally walked right beside him. he mentioned it again, this time daring to look at me, and again i reassured him that i didn’t notice anything.
he asked about where i lived, wanting to know if it was “nice and all that.” if it was nicer than where he lived. then he asked me if i was suicidal. my heart broke. i said no and asked if he was, to which he answered yes.
we walked until we hit his place and he quickly scurried away from me. it was a very short conversation, but i saw something in Stefan’s eyes…hope, maybe. weariness, and loneliness, and a longing for someone just to look at him and see him.
it was late. nearly 2 am. we’d been walking for hours. we were exhausted and almost home. then we saw her rocking on the sidewalk, holding her leg and crying. she waved to me and i waved back. the second time she did this, i realized she was beckoning me, not just saying hello.
i reluctantly went over, knowing my group was tired and ready to get to bed. i bent down in front of her and began to ask what was wrong. she showed us her ankle and it was clearly damaged. her clothes were dirty, she didn’t wear a bra and her breath reaked of alcohol. i had no idea what we were in store for.
a friend in our group is a paramedic and recommended calling for an ambulance. she looked at me and frantically told me not to leave her until they came. i looked her in the eye and told her i wouldn’t. different members of our group scattered about, looking for help and i stayed with Amanda while she cried.
as i held her foot and rubbed her leg, i kept asking myself to consider how i would treat her if this was my sister. i wouldn’t care that she was probably injured because she was drinking or that she had addictions issues or was homeless…i would just want her to feel loved and comforted and not scared to go to the hospital. so i just sat, sometimes layed, there with her on the sidewalk.
for whatever reason, i had a connection with Amanda. she would only listen, only respond to me. even if others asked her questions, i would have to repeat the question before she would answer.
we sat together until the ambulance, her a sobbing mess, me coming to deeply care about this person. the paramedics were great but i was defensive of her, wanting them to see what i saw. she was wheeled to the ambulance, loading in and gone. just like that. shipped away. i couldn’t help but cry at how impersonal that felt, to just pass her off as though she didn’t mean anything to me….
we met Patrick Thursday night, tho we’d heard a great deal about him. he is nothing more than 5 feet tall with a toothless grin and beautiful smile. he shared his story with us, a childhood of sexual abuse and neglect, followed by an adolescence on the streets of Toronto. now, as an older adult, he is wrestling (just as we all seem to be) with his “calling.”
Patrick tended to just pop up wherever we were. Toronto is not a small city (in fact, 5 times that of Indy), but somehow he always knew where to find us. we began to call him our little Leprechaun for his tendency to appear and disappear quickly.
Patrick taught by example and i was repeatedly moved by his deep love for those who are down and out.
as i took a seat in the basement of the church, not knowing how this dinner thing worked, a Hungarian voice next to me began to tell me i needed to go get food. he waived someone over, who informed us they were out of food. he passed me his piece of bread.
it is hard to explain, honestly, most of what Stephen shared. he was a physicist in a past life, journeyed to Toronto as a refugee from Hungary hoping for a better life, only to have lost his job 2 years ago. he’d been job searching but gave up in frustration. so, we let him tell us about global climate change and the dwindling of natural resources/inevitability of future rationing of resources (what he calles the “big shits”).
he is incredibly intelligent and strongly opinionated, and the two other guys with me and i could not help but recall and share things Stephen said for days afterward.
there are so many others–George, the old man in the greenhouse, Krystal, the starving artist swinging in the park, Danny, the man bound to a wheel-chair because of pins in his foot, which he proceeded to hang his boom box from…the list goes on. not to mention the stories of those in my group. stories of love and grace and brokenness and forgiveness and moving on. sometimes our story is all we have, and it is everything.