Thursday, December 20, 2007

Generosity of spirit on the street

People are amazing.

We were filming a commercial for the shelter where I work. The film crew, about 8 people, had all donated their time -- an amazing gift as it cut the cost of the already discounted budget by half!

When I arrived on the 'set', two gentlemen who were obviously homeless were talking on the street in front of the plate glass windows where the cameras were set up. I wondered if they were the actors or not -- they were. We chatted for awhile and then the crew all went inside as we were filming through the glass to the actors outside. One lay on a piece of cardboard on a grate on the sidewalk while the other sat on a bench behind him. At one point, a crew member went out to fix something. As he was talking to the man lying on the ground a female passerby approached, her body posture combative.

"Are you bothering this man?" she asked the crew member, her voice filled with concern.

The crew member looked at her, surprised. "No," he replied. "We're filming a commercial."

Embarrassed, the woman quickly apologized and left. We were all touched by her concern for the homeless actor on the ground.

Awhile later, the actors were alone outside as everyone was busy getting ready for filming inside. Two police officers approached, their ticket book ready as they attempted to move the actors from their resting place. The Director and I raced outside and moved the officers along.

Another woman, carrying a bit paper shopping bag, walked by and stopped to chat. "Here, she said to one of the actors as she pulled a big woolen sock out of her shopping bag, "Merry Christmas" and she handed him the sock filled with toiletries and Christmas goodies.

"Oh no. I can't," said the actor. "I'm just playing the role of a homeless guy for a commercial."

The woman didn't believe him. "Please, take it." She waved the sock towards him. He gestured to the camera and crew hiding behind the glass.

"Oh!" She laughed. Waved at us and carried on her way.

Aaron is a client of the shelter. He wandered onto set. Watched the action that wasn't really action as much as one man lying on the grate, the other bending over him for a moment before moving to sit on the park bench. Eventually he came inside. "Hi," I said as he stumbled towards me.

We chatted for awhile, his words slurred. He's quick minded. Funny. Self-deprecating kind of humour. "I auditioned for a movie role," he said. "They told me I was too good looking."

"I can understand that," I replied with a smile.

"I could be in this movie," he said, motioning to the actors outside. "I could go out there an pick bottles. I'm the world's greatest bottle picker."

"They'll want you to be sober, Aaron," I replied gently.

"Oh that." He laughed, waving his 'to go' coffee mug in front of him. "Everyone always wants that." He paused and grinned at me. "I gotta drink to get through my day."

"Can I get you some more coffee?" I asked pointing at his mug.

"Aahhhh. I cannot lie to you," he said grinning sheepishly. "It's beer." And he tilted his head back, lifted the mug to his lips and took a long, satisfying swallow.

It was a day of contradictions. Another homeless woman stumbled onto set. Set her backpack on the ground and started to chat amiably with the actors. We watched from behind the glass. They obviously didn't tell her what they were doing there. From her jacket pocket she hauled out a pack of cigarettes and offered them both a smoke.

The generosity of someone who has nothing.

I filled a coffee cup, grabbed a couple of sugar and creams and took it out to her. "Would you like a coffee?" I asked.

She looked at me, nodded her head up and down, her body in constant jerky movements. "Nice," she said. "Nobody gets left behind."

She took the coffee, sweetened it with the sugars, picked up her pack and continued on her way.

The actors continued to hold their positions. People continued to walk by, most trying to avoid looking at the door derelicts lying on the ground. A school group wandered past, a mother hastily grabbing her son, tucking him under her arm as she pulled him closer to the side of the building so that they could pass as far away from the scene as possible. A well-dressed, affluent looking man walked by. He glanced furtively at the scene, his face a study of disgust. Others looked for a cup to drop coins into.

Contradictions. Generosity of spirit. Meanness of heart.

It was all in part of the parade of life that unfolded yesterday on the street where so many people live.

The question is: What's happening on the street in front of you. Do you walk with eyes up, looking at the world unfolding, or do you walk with eyes fixed to the ground, never once glancing at the lives passing by?

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