Every year around around this time I have what I call my “hot dog” moment.
Tonight was that night.
Let me give you the back story…
In 1989, about a week before my wedding, I was in Toronto for the weekend. (I was living up north at the time) It was the first week of December, and the city was in full holiday hustle and bustle swing.
Although I grew up in the city, I had been living away for about 4 yrs at that time, in a resort town, sheltered from the harsh realities life.
I was riding the subway when I noticed a man, obviously homeless and down on his luck, eating a hot dog. That in and of itself wasn’t odd, but rather the way he was eating it. Quickly, and protectively, while his eyes darted suspiciously at the people around him, fearing they might reach over and grab it from him at any moment.
I felt like the walls were closing in on me, and I burst into tears. My fiance looked at me like I was out of my mind, and chalked it up to pre-wedding stress. But he was wrong.
I’ve always been a pretty empathetic person, but in this instance I really felt his hunger, and his fear, and his urgency.
And it made me overwhelming sad.
24 yrs later, it still resonates in the pit of my stomach.
And now every year, especially around this time, there is a “hot dog” moment that overwhelms me.
The weird sense of relief I felt last year when the skinny, bearded homeless man with the sad eyes and sweet smile appeared at the bottom of the escalator at Yonge & Bloor when the weather got cold, and while saddened by his plight, I was so happy he was still alive that I smiled teary-eyed at him while stuffing $10 into his cup.
And then tonight when I became so distracted by the homeless man struggling to decide which treat he could afford to buy in the coffee shop at the end of the night.
Other down trodden folks had made their rounds earlier in the evening, asking the patrons for spare change, my friend and I making note of the fact that one was sporting a Canada Goose jacket and pretty decent boots.
But this old fella walked in and looked around for a place to sit. He was not in possession of a proper coat, but rather a few layers of sweaters and a light jacket. He had tattered shoes, and was wearing grocery bags over his socks to keep his feet dry. He had a shopping bag which likely carried all of his worldly possessions. After he picked a spot, and lay his bag down, and without bothering anyone along the way, he quietly made his way up to the counter, and asked for a piece of the gingerbread cake. I quietly made my way up beside him and asked if he would like a sandwich. He graciously accepted my offer and chose one. I brought it to the barista and paid for it, and then called over to the man that his sandwich was paid for and waiting for him. The barista seemed annoyed with me for doing that, but I didn’t care.
Perhaps it was because he didn’t ask that I felt compelled to reach out.
Perhaps it was because I wanted to make sure that he had something more substantial to eat than sugar before facing the cold night ahead.
Perhaps it was because I have been but a week or so away from being completely broke and potentially homeless myself.
And just like all the other “hot dog” moments, the emotions bubbled up without warning. The burning sadness. The frustration. The want… the need to do more.
I am just one person, but at least once a month I try to feed someone. (I’d rather offer someone food than just give them spare change) I wish I could do more, but realistically, I am limited.
It’s so easy, in our busy lives, to just walk past, with blinders on, and go about our lives without a second thought to the plight of those lest fortunate than us. To look down upon or scoff at those looking for a handout. I’m guilty of it myself, though I always try to smile and make eye contact when tell them I’m sorry I can’t help them today.
But just imagine if everyone of us paid it forward, even just once a month, with a meal, or a coffee, or even a fresh pair of socks.
Imagine how humiliating it is to have to ask for help. I’m not talking the regulars that have the funny catch phrases, or their spot in front of a specific store. Keep your eye out for the quiet ones, they’re probably the most in need.
Please keep this in mind as you fill your shopping carts and trunks with groceries, and clothes, and electronics, and all of the other little extras this holiday season.
Put a couple of extra cans in the food bank bin.
Purge your closets and donate to your local clothing drive
Drop off some new socks, or hats, or gloves to a shelter or community clinic.
Find an Angel tree and fulfill a gift request for a needy child.
Keep an eye out for your elderly neighbours and offer your services to clear the snow, or take them grocery shopping.
Be creative. Be generous. Be an example to others.