Friday, October 08, 2010

Touch

I saw them take the body away. The stretcher was eased into the van, respectfully. It would have been nice for him to know that, in death, someone had been gentle with him. I spoke briefly with a bystander, concerned. I wanted to know if it was him, the young man who I gave spare loonies to, the young man who always asked politely for help, the young man who put his hand out for coins but mostly wanted kindness. I sat and watched them close the door. I waited as the ambulance pulled away. There were no sirens. The emergency, it seemed, was over. I panicked for just a moment, his crutch was left behind, the handle dirty from use. It looked, without him, lost. It looked like it was waiting for it's masters voice. Lonely. Something, if not someone, missed him already.

My power chair took over and drove me, senseless, into the mall, over to the elevator where I missed my floor, forgetting to get off. I found myself again and rode purposely to where I needed to be. I found Joe in the grocery store picking up potatoes and smiling over to me. I watched people busily going about their business. A young man, maybe 20, had died just a few feet away. It was unreasonable to think they knew, it was unreasonable to wish they did.

On the way home, the wind which had warmed us earlier, had turned cold. I thought of his young body lying somewhere. I thought of him covered with a sheet when all his life he'd needed a blanket. I wondered if I should feel some kind of guilt. I wondered what I should have felt guilty for ... I always spoke with him, I always gave him what change I had, I always wished him well, I always looked him in the eye.

I suppose there were things I never did. I never took him for a meal. I never engaged in real conversation. I never asked him how he came to sit on pavement and ask for money. I'm not sorry I didn't do those things. Maybe I should be, but I'm not. I don't think that's what he wanted from me. I think he only wanted a moments kindness, I think he could only bear our brief contact, I think he wanted little from me and more would have caused him pain, somehow.

His name, to me was, 'Hey, how you doing?' My name, to him was, 'Good to see you bud!' His hands were always dirty. His eyes were often dim. His presence was sometimes blurred. But he was simply always there. I never knew where he slept. I never saw him with another soul. I never ever heard a mean word from his lips. If the world had been cruel to him, we wasn't ever cruel back. I'd seen people almost spit at him as they turned down his plea for money, he'd simply say, 'Sorry to have been a bother.' He'd say it sincerely, without bitterness, without sarcasm.

I worried that his death would go unnoticed. His absence unremarkable in a city which moves quickly. But he had been gently loaded on to the ambulance. The men who had come for him had come to late, but they had come. And their touch had been gentle. It isn't much for me to hold on to, but it's something.

And it, oddly, gives me a great deal of peace.

15 comments:

Kristin said...

And, now Dave, thanks to you, the rest of us are taking a moment to recognize and think about the loss of this young life.

theknapper said...

Lots to contemplate.....'I think he could only bear our brief contact'.....says so much. Small acts of kindness are important as well as rembering and honouring people who cross our paths. He probably didn't realize his impact on you or on us.I hope he finds peace. thanks for sharing this.

cat-terry said...

I volunteer in an emergency relief organisation and before we can give anything to anyone, you have to establish need.

I think it must be nice to be able to receive a bit of kindness without having to offer anything of yourself. Just the sheer fact that you're a living being is enough.

Thanks for sharing this. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dave for once more reminding me to take a minute and look and see everyone that I meet. I will be thinking of this young man today and will take the time to offer a smile and spare change to someone who needs it today.

liz said...

Thank you for this post.

Betty said...

I'm sorry for his loss. I'm sorry I didn't know him.

In his name I will try to notice and be kind to people asking for a little help without judging them for their circumstances.

I'm sorry.....

joyfulgirl said...

what a sad story-it was hard to witness such a thing but i'm glad someone who had noticed him and 'knew' him did witness it.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

What stood out to me in your post is that you took the time to look him in the eye when you spoke. To you he was a human being. What a gift that recognition was to both of you.

Your gift to me was the statement, "I think he could only bear our brief contact." I wonder how often I have given someone more than they could bear - meeting my need, not theirs?

Thanks for a thought provoking post. And my condolences, Dave.

Colleen

AkMom said...

I read this last night my time, couldn't figure out how to put my feelings into words.

Thank you for seeing him.

My daughter just spent a year working with chronic homeless/chronic alcoholics. Most of them had mental illnesses as well. She made many friends just by seeing them, being there, not judging.
She also lost many friends during her year.

OK, this still doesn't speak of my feelings, but...
Thank you, Dave.

Shan said...

:-(

wendy said...

I have no words...thank goodness yours are so eloquent!

Myrrien said...

thank you for the poetry of your heart Dave. I would not know what to post except something my husband posted in reply to something I said on facebook

Forever in the mind of God. Forever in the heart of the Man of Sorrows.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what awaits us in death, but I hope this young man knows so many people are thinking of him now.

Anonymous said...

Once again thanks for sharing Dave. Thanks for being you, and taking the time for the very important little things that get so very forgotten in this busy thing we call life.

Anonymous said...

... and people on the ambulance crews are something amazing!!! Their acceptance and compassion are an inspiration.