Tonight was a night I need to process.
A small group of us go out on street outreach every Wednesday night. In our context this simply means we walk through Parkdale with our eyes as wide open as possible. We chat with those we know and sometimes those we don’t. Time outside is important in part because it means being on the turf of so many of our friends. One such friend was panhandling outside the local liquor store, or as she calls it, “hustling”. She was seated on the ground and invited us to join her and so we did.
Thus began our evening. Though we were seated on the sidewalk, she continued to call out to people passing by. At one point she introduced us as her family: “don’t be afraid, these are my sisters, my brother, my Godfather”. She took the occasional swig of cheap sherry and admitted she’d been sitting there for at least four hours. She asked us to pray for her; she followed by praying for us. She repeatedly told us she loved us.
We eventually got up off the pavement and started to walk together. We got to Tim Horton’s and she suggested we go in. She bought us all something with the money she made panning. I can’t even describe how precious this felt. We huddled around a table where suddenly she got quieter than she’d been all evening.
She began softly: “Why me?” The lament grew louder: “Why me? Why me? Why me?”
Yes, why her? Life has spiralled seemingly out-of-control: homelessness, hustling and hunger. She wants life to be different, but doesn’t know how to change it. Life began with her father forcing himself on her. As she said, “my parent did that to me. That’s not my fault right? That can’t be my fault.” So yes, why?
My hand is sore from how hard she was holding it tonight. I suspect everyone’s hand from our group feels the same way. Our friend swung from being drunk to prayerful to extremely funny to hospitable and generous to mad and desperately sad. It felt like she was clinging on to us, for support, companionship and love. Truthfully, we were clinging back.
A man who witnessed some of our interaction came up and asked who we were. He wondered if we needed donations and handed me a toonie, began to walk away and then turned around and handed us all the loose change he had. Our friend wished him a Merry Christmas because “this must mean that Christmas is coming”.
I constantly think of how Christmas light flickers with us but will one day constantly glow; of how God’s kingdom is here but not yet fully realized. The horror our friend has faced makes me ask “why?” AND her beautifully deep capacity to give out of her little, make people laugh and protect her friends make me remember there is hope.
I just wish it all didn’t have to hurt so much. Please kingdom, come.