small acts of compassion

I see Ed pushing his grocery cart through the lumps of icy snow left along the sidewalk just outside my house. He looks wet and chilled and his face is understandably bunched up into a dirty laundry knot of miserable. I call out – “Ed! How you doing?” – happy to see him after so many months (he was the fellow who helped me move in and then shared with me one of his beers) He stops, looks at me, startled, then nothing registers except annoyance. He keeps going, slightly shielding his cart from me as though I might steal something. I lose my nerve to jog his memory and quietly follow with,”…nice to see you…”.

UnknownAs I click the alarm off on my Mini I chide myself, “How do you think he’s doing? You moron. He’s living outside in the snowy winter and no Good King Wenceslas is about to bring him bread and wine.”

I open my car door and plunk myself down in my cashmere coat on leather seats. I look in the mirror at my sleek hair and lipstick. Maybe he doesn’t recognize me. Last time he saw me I was so scruffy I could have walked off the stage of les Miserables, (minus the fetching bustier).

Later, in the middle of the night, 3am, I am startled awake. My patio gate opens. The dark figure of a full grown man walks in and covers my bedroom window. He’s staring in-between the slats of my blinds looking for movement.  I gasp and remain perfectly still. He scuttles into the patio, I bolt up in my bed to grab my phone and see if he will carry anything out with him. I see him bolt back out my patio with empty arms. There is nothing to steal except potted plants.

My heart pounding, I dial up 911 and creep out onto my patio in my pyjamas to make sure he’s gone and to shut my gate firmly.

I doubt this is Ed. But it could be. It could be the other side of him. Then I feel bad about thinking that.

Then I congratulate myself on the fact that I now give to a couple of shelters downtown.

Then I feel bad about that. What a small offering for such a huge problem. I feel bad about my shiny sports car, my closet full of clothes, the lamb roast in the fridge. I may not be financially carefree, but I’m $150,000.00 up on Ed.

I’ve had many terrible reviews for my work over the years. One from Leave of Absence (another small offering for a huge problem) is, “another fucking straight person feeling sorry”. Like it’s offensive to even do anything at all.

It is somehow related to when I commented on my friend Lisa’s post about the alarming rate that aboriginal women get murdered and go missing. I argued that I didn’t think it was about racism so much as it was about poverty. She talked me through her feelings (she is aboriginal herself) and then the slaying of Loretta Saunders has me convinced it is a racist thing. I think I argued because I can understand violence happening amongst and against those living in desperate and compromised conditions. I can see how they are taken advantage of. It’s horrible. But to think that someone would be killed simply based on their race is something I am not willing to admit happens in Canada. But it does.

3am and this white straight middle class woman is “feeling sorry”.

This week I got a new boarder. Her name is Bianca, she is from Brazil. She is sleeping right now as I type. She is studying to be a social worker, specializing in working with autistic children. She’s lovely! Bianca was sharing with me her shock over the amount of homeless we have in Vancouver. But she noted, despite the huge numbers, the HIV virus has decreased dramatically among addicts thanks to govt safe injection sites and there are no hoards of children living on the street thanks to legalized abortion.

It was good to hear we’re doing something right.

Tonight Andrew Smith came over for dinner with Poppy. He’s doing a revised version of Leave of Absence at the school he teaches at in Chilliwack: bold move. Already it has sparked important conversations among the students and I know the play has changed lives, despite those who feel my compassion isn’t useful.

The slaying of Loretta Saunders is in all the papers and finally this issue is being discussed seriously again. It isn’t just prostitutes who are victims of a rare sicko like Pickton. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because Loretta looks caucasian.

Sometimes our act of compassion can be misguided. When I first moved to Vancouver I participated in an anti-abortion march and could not understand why so many women would drive by and fiercely give me the middle finger. Don’t they care about the rights of the unborn?

Ah. Yes.

Now I get it.


We do what we can, we do what we can. With the understanding we have. We do what we can. And that always does some good somehow.

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