Sometimes, the spirit of this season is crystallized in a small moment, a gesture, a simple kindness, what I like to call a Tender Mercy. I had one two days ago that has blessed me with a renewed faith in the human spirit.
I have mixed views about this holiday. I’m not a Christian, but I have a belief in what I have learned to call a higher power. I settle somewhere in the realm of aspirational secular humanist. I can give a long blah-blah-blah about the commercialization of this holiday as one of many other digressions but I am a softy.
I’ve never made it through any of the cheesy seasonal movies without tearing up a bit at the end – even Love Actually. Forget I ever said that, I’ll deny it.
But I struggle sometimes, capturing the spirit of the season can be a challenge, especially this year with Covid hanging over us all.
This year is different.
There is a woman binner in our neighbourhood. I’ll call her Jane, not her real name. For anyone who believes that being poor is a result of laziness, I would suggest they spend a day with Jane. She pushes her trusty shopping cart loaded with cans, bottles and plastic through our neighbourhood every day. She has a route, checking the bins, the dumpsters, the recycle containers for our cast-offs, which she then exchanges for a pittance. I don’t know what she makes a day but I’m told $15-20 is a good day.
She is at it every day, except maybe Sunday.
I started to chat with her whenever I met her. One thing I learned from my friend Susan and others at places where I volunteered is that people like Jane are seldom recognized or spoken to, we make them invisible. It isolates them, dehumanizes them and robs them of their humanity, their individuality and their dignity.
So, we chat. Each time, I learn a bit about her. A few months ago, she got a place of her own, an SRO somewhere near here. Her biggest joy, she said, was that she had a freezer to put a carton of ice cream in, she didn’t have to eat the whole thing when she spent some hard earned money on a little treat.
She had a boyfriend who died a while ago, it saddened her.
Two day ago, I asked about the holidays, did she have some people to spend Xmas with? She said she was still grieving over her ex-boyfriend’s death so she was going to spend some time alone.
Then she volunteered a bit of information. She had been stopped by someone in the neighbourhood a day ago. They had given her a check for $1000. Out of the blue, a gift of the magi; she teared up as she told me, so did I.
I could not imagine what that meant to her, so stumbling around for something to say, I asked her what she would do with that gift. “Well,” she said, “I think I’ll take tomorrow off.”
I wished her a happy holiday and we went on our separate ways.