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To sleep perchance to dream

  • 28th Mar, 2005 at 1:10 PM

I saw the most depressing thing this weekend.

Sunday evening, I left my parents place and took the subway down to Union station. As I walked up the stairs to go to the train station, I was accosted by various panhandlers.

These people were all depressingly poor. I mean, their bodies were emaciated, their hair was matted, their beards thick and tangled. Their faces were covered in open sores, like people who had taken too many hits of crack and were wasting away. They held out their Tim Hortons cups and begged for help. "Spare some change for the homeless," they'd mumble. Your money can't help them get out of the situation, but where's the compassion? I walked past them with Torontonian blindness.

I went to the ticket counter and claimed my ticket for the overnight train. I had a pleasant, courteous, and efficient conversation with the ticket agent. Everything was all arranged and I picked up my knapsack and headed for the door. I had to be at Jeff's place in fifteen minutes so I had to walk briskly.

I walked towards the east exit of Union station, the one that leads out to Front St. There, on a bench sat a girl. She looked like she was waiting for her train, and had fallen asleep against a wall. She wore a white shirt with a pink t-shirt on top. She had faded jeans and new white sneakers. Her auburn hair was tied up in a neat ponytail. A red backpack sat on the bench beside her.

The only bizarre thing to this scene were the four firefighters, the two policeman, and the stretcher surrounding her. They were all standing around awkwardly, while the policewoman scribbled in a notepad. Someone had strapped a monitor strapped to her arm. They weren't hauling her on to the stretcher and wheeling her out into a waiting ambulance. There wasn't any need. Urgency wouldn't have helped.

She looked so young and so peaceful. As if she was just taking a nap after a long, but fun, weekend with her family. That she was going back to school where she'd pass her finals and then off to a summer job. It didn't look like she was in pain. She just slipped away.

And the only thing I could think was, "somebody's going to have a horrible Easter Monday." And the next thing I could think was, "miracles don't happen very often." And I felt so bad because I knew that when someone dies, there's always this crazy, desperate hope that they'll get up and start walking around again.

But they never do.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
28th Mar, 2005 18:34 (UTC)
*corrected- le-el ..tired I guess.
having been homeless in Toronto off and on for years I'd like to say how much the simple word "sorry" means.

It wont change their situation? really? do you know that for a fact?

I was 13 when I was first on the street...

one nickel meant a sandwich at the evergreen
a sandwich at the evergreen meant a warm place to sit
that warm place to sit opened me up to speaking with the counselors they had on hand.
those counselors eventually convinced me that I was better than all of this and gave me the tools I needed to get out.Here I am now, 15 years later...married, owning my own business, a mother of three..

all that for a nickel :)

terribly sad about the girl.
28th Mar, 2005 18:39 (UTC)
Re: *corrected- le-el ..tired I guess.
Every once in a while, I talk with these people, with the ones that look like a little shove could get them back on their feet. I'm not particularly rich, so I've got to pick and choose the ones I help. The ones scarred by drug abuse tend to be the ones I avoid.

I offer to listen to them and to buy them some food at a place of their choosing. I don't know what more to do, though.

I've heard some weird stories. Like this homeless guy, Alan was his name I think, who claimed to want to be a policeman like his brother, and then professed the desire to kill his entire family. That was a turn-off to ever buying him pizza slices again.
28th Mar, 2005 18:47 (UTC)
Re: *corrected- le-el ..tired I guess.
People used to do that for me...take me over to the big slice for a meal...
They didn't want to help, they wanted to hear my story. I was amusing.

I give the change in my pocket until I have no more, then I give a soft smile and apology to anyone else who asks me.

28th Mar, 2005 18:54 (UTC)
Re: *corrected- le-el ..tired I guess.
I'm interested in stories too, but you don't have to pay people for those. Lots of people will just tell you them just because.

I personally am concerned that my money will filter its way into violent activities. That makes me sad.

But I think I'll follow your example now.
28th Mar, 2005 19:03 (UTC)
I attracted all sorts of strange people, I wasn't suggesting you were buying these people, sorry about that :)

Well this is it, a sympathetic smile doesn't cost a thing. As for the money going into violent activities I will tell you that in my experience that's above most panhandlers. Panhandling just doesn't pay well, at the worst, it'll buy a 6$ bottle of bum sherry...the gangs, the dealers and the pimps have other means.

29th Mar, 2005 05:16 (UTC)

Where does the Torontonian blindness come from?

I hate it. I hate experiencing it; I hate perpetuating it, but it's a part of my makeup and I don't know how to shake it. Is it a defence mechanism? I used to give whenever the opportunity prevented itself. Now I don't. I don't know why.
29th Mar, 2005 14:32 (UTC)
I think it comes about slowly.

Because Toronto is such a big city, such a cold city, you really can't connect with every person you meet. You ignore all the people that stand cram around you on the bus, you ignore all the people who walk down the street, you ignore the people standing in line. You have to, because if you cared for them all, you'd go insane.

So slowly, ever so gradually, you develop mental blinkers. You no longer see anything but your destination, so you aren't startled when something bizzare happens.

I guess the only thing to do is to look and to pay attention. But then might you go insane? How do you deal with so much heartbreak that happens in a city like Toronto? Such is the price to pay for humanity.
(Deleted comment)
6th Apr, 2005 00:11 (UTC)
Have you been to New York?
Torontonian blindness?? I assume you have never been to New York City.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )