I got the news at 9:30am a few short days ago. Part of me knew it was coming, she’d been sick for some time.
Nothing ever prepares you for it. A sudden mono-toned phone call from a widower husband using your friend’s phone, telling you a person you loved is gone.
I had hoped to see her again when I came back home once COVID’s peak here in Canada ends and restrictions are lessened, but that won’t happen now.
She was never wealthy, popular, nor healthy. She was born in a poor and broken family being type 1 diabetic the moment she entered the world nearly 50 years ago.
One look wouldn’t tell you much beyond what you’d expect from that description. Her condition and upbringing deeply impacted her mental health, causing here to slide in and out of deep depression her entire life.
Having been co-workers for several years, we’d had our fair share of fights, but knowing her for so long meant I had many opportunities to see her for who she was as a whole, beyond what her conditions presented to the world who didn’t take time to get to know her.
She was kind, giving and generous with what little she had, no matter how she felt inside. She kept that standard with everyone.
Being much younger, I got to learn much from her. Including what not to call her during dinner rush at the restaurant if I wanted to avoid artillery fire.
For nearly 10 years our friendship developed into one not so different than that of close family. Being a constant bother to each-other while also knowing if shit hit the fan the other would rush to help.
Now all that had suddenly vanished. A person I’d come to look up to, who was always in my corner, had now passed before I could say goodbye.
I was in a coffee shop just outside of Vancouver’s city center when the news came. For an hour I didn’t move, even tho my coffee had long since been empty.
I was meeting someone new on a date in 2 hours, and my legs had turned elastic.
In that moment only one question made sense to get me moving.
I asked myself, not what I wanted, but what my friend would have wanted for my day.
Reluctantly, I told the person I was to meet what had happened and that although I was not in good spirits, knew that going ahead with my day would be what my stubborn friend would have kicked me in the ass to do.
Thankfully in COVID times, it’s much easier to hide you face on a public bus.
I got to the center of the city and I met this new person, who excitedly greeted me with a hug (not something most would do these days) and I instantly felt better.
With renewed vigor we selected our coffee shop an crossed the street making small talk on the way to our destination.
Then something unexpected happened.
When the pandemic hit, I was making enough money to be able to give 100$/month to charity but sadly as with many of us my income dropped dramatically. I was reluctantly forced to stop donations in mid May.
Before entering the coffee shop, a homeless man approached me. I do give on occasion, but recent times have been rough so I’ve usually felt immediately reluctant to engage, grasping for some stupid excuse to walk away.
This time I didn’t do that. I had a 20$ bill in my pocket intended as an emergency fund in case I ran into a problem and needed transportation. Without a thought, I invited him into the coffee shop, handed him the 20$, and sent him ahead of me in the line, all while feeling beyond a doubt this was the right thing to do.
He got his coffee, and then turned to thank me with the change in hand. I told him to keep it. He smiled, then turned and left the coffee shop, thanking me over his shoulder on the way out.
My new friend and I then sat for a few hours ,and got to know each-other, forgetting completely about the events of the day up to that point.
I had to catch my bus out of town before long, so we parted ways and have since continued to expand on our encounter.
On my way to the bus however, another homeless man approached me. This time asking for food. I had no cash left and less than 30$ to my name in my account that day. But I also knew I had EI supporting me in this dried job market. He didn’t.
Saying no, just didn’t feel right.
So we walked to the nearest atm and I cashed out a 20$ bill. The man’s name was Chris, he was in his 50s, and to my surprise was from my dad’s home area near London, Ontario.
I didn’t tell him I gave him the last of what I had for the next several days.
What would have been the point?
I knew I had a place to sleep, a few groceries in the fridge, and social security.
I came home later that night, sat alone and allowed my grief to wash over me unrestrained.
While in that state I questioned my actions with the 2 homeless men.
I would give change on occasion, but this is the first time I’d ever given 40$ away that I didn’t have in order to help 2 people I didn’t know — if for no other reason than reminding them they existed, if only for a short time.
It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that my friend had acted through me that day. It was the only explanation for such a drastic change in my normal selfish actions.
Even tho she’s gone, her example of giving even when she had nothing carried itself 4,000km away from the source to the hands of 2 strangers.
Such is the person she was, and helped teach me to be.
I can’t claim I will always be so noble. I’m more selfish than I’d like most to know. But that moment taught me a deeper lesson on vulnerability and humility.
One I felt the need to pass on to all of you.