"Spare any change, Miss?" his voice breaks through my mental fog where I am dismantling my bed and re-organizing the last of my boxes. I look down at his perch - a gritty, used-to-be green, backpack - and then notice the frayed sleeve of his jacket as he reaches out with a empty, wrinkled coffee cup.
I almost keep walking, as I have so many times in the past, and the unsavoury voice of self-righteousnes creeps into my thoughts, "Do I have any change? No, mister, I don't have any change because I am not earning money right now either. But, at least I'm doing my best to change my circumstances."
Instantly I feel terrible. Who am I to pass judgement? I have no idea what his story is or why he now sits outside the Whole Foods on 4th and Vine. Didn't cancer teach me anything about compassion? Humility? Shared humanity? In that split second, I remember a quote by Mother Teresa: "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."
For the first time, I see the men and women I walk by on the streets of Vancouver in a different way. What would it feel like for people to cross the street so they didn't have to walk by you? Imagine the humiliation of asking for help and people acting as if they can't hear you. Didn't I experience the sting of people not calling to see how I was doing during treatment because they weren't sure what to say?
I walk over, stand in front of him and say, "Hi, how is your day going?"(The longest sentence I have ever uttered to a homeless person in my life. Usually I nod or say "sorry" on my way by.)
His bright blue eyes find mine. For a moment, my breath catches in my throat. Those eyes could be my brother's or my Dad's. Same blue. Same intensity.
"It's a hard day, but I'm surviving." he says.
"Are you hungry? Would you like a banana? A CLIF bar?" I ask. He nods as I dig through my backpack for a couple of my recent purchases. Then, he lowers his eyes and stares at a pebble on the sidewalk as he thanks me three times.
I want to thank him. Because, for a moment, I feel the same connection I felt for the little boy in Cape Town who I wrote about in my post, For We Can Only Be Human Together.
As I walk away, I don't calculate whether I can afford the $4 I spent on food and gave to him. Of course I can. Instead, I fight back tears and for the next few blocks, I can't stop thinking about his eyes or the lesson in our brief meeting.
Whether I travel to Africa or look around my neighbourhood, the lesson I keep learning is that we are all the same. Our fear is universal. Our shame is universal. Most importantly, our desire for love and connection is universal. The homeless man on 4th and Vine and I are no different. We just want people to see us, to hear us, and to tell us that we matter.