Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time is running

Snow covers the ground outside my window. Night holds tight. Street light glare is softened by the frigid arctic air that grips us in its maw. Yesterday, Calgary had the very unreal distinction of being the second coldest place on earth.

Excuse me?

-27 F (or about -33 C) at the Springbank Airport at 10:57 a.m. Tuesday, the weather report said.

Why there aughta' be a law!

The only place colder – anywhere – was the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where it was -36 F (or -38 C), according to

Hello? We're freezing up here.

And they call it Global Warming?

Could someone please send the warmth our way?

Global warming my mukluks!

More like the Great Global Deep-Freeze.

Baby it's cold outside.

Yesterday, I drove to a meeting downtown just a few blocks away -- but too far to walk in such frigid temperatures. In my car I was warm and dry. I was still bundled up -- who knew how far I'd have to walk to get from where I parked?

I drove through our courtyard, a place normally full of people - hanging out, standing around, smoking, playing hackey sack, sitting on the pavement.

Yesterday. It was empty.

No one. Not a soul. The only souls around were those walking briskly into the shelter, getting in from the cold as fast as they could. Even the dealers who can usually be found hanging out on public property just beyond our gates were absent.

There was no one walking down the street. No one passing-by.

Except one man.

Jack. He wasn't moving too quickly.

He stumbled down the laneway, towards the gates, his body encased in heavy jacket, hood up covering his head.

He staggered unsteadily, the ice underfoot treacherous.

Anyone watching might have assumed he was under the influence. Just another drunken bum falling down and freezing to death in the cold.

I once had a police officer say that to me. About freezing in the cold.

I was giving a presentation on "Street Sensitivity". I regularly do these presentations with our police force in an effort to awaken them to the humanity of the people we serve.

On this day someone had asked, "What do you do when the shelter's full and it's freezing outside?"

"We make room," I replied. "We cannot turn someone away in this weather. Our staff just can't do it."

"If they're drunks they should just freeze to death in a snow bank," an officer piped up.

The humanity. Remember their humanity, I reminded myself before responding.

"Is that why you became a police officer?" I asked. "To have someone die on your watch?"

"No. But if the guy won't quit drinking what are you supposed to do?"

"Help him. Keep him safe."

Jack wasn't far from the shelter. I wondered why he'd gone out in the cold on a day like today, but Jack is stubborn. He probably wanted fresh air.

And Jack is dying. He doesn't have many days for fresh air left.

It's the big C.

They've operated but, they say there's not much they can do.

Time will have its say. The big C will have its way. He's not got much time left. And what time he's got, Jack will, as he's done everything his entire life, do it his way.

A small man, the big C has eaten away what little body fat he had. He's mostly skin and bones. Stretched tight. Stretched taut against bones that protrude at awkward angles. Collar bone etched. Cheek bones chiseled. Eye sockets sunken.

And still he has his sense of humour.

"Why don't I come up to your office and chase you around your desk?" he suggested yesterday when I saw him on the Second Floor in our day area, a place where people can sit and read, play cards, chat with friends and staff, watch TV. He was volunteering. Answering the call to help people up and down the elevators. Even as time ebbs away, Jack wants to give back.

I laughed. "My office isn't very big. And my desk is up against a wall."

"All the better," he replied. "I won't have to chase you far!"

It is his way. Witty. Charming. Funny. He can be grouchy but never bitter or mean.

And time is running out.

Time doesn't care about the weather. About agendas or calendars or hopes and dreams. Time is running out for Jack and still he gives back.

Time for all of us to start giving back too. To start giving up our prejudices and perceptions that paint us into believing freezing in the cold is what someone, anyone, deserves. That an addiction is a conscious choice chosen because someone thought it would be a good idea to live their life as an addict, or homeless, or mentally ill.

Time to awaken to our own humanity and start giving the world our best. No matter the times, we need to fill the world, whatever time it is, whatever time we've got, with our best.

It's time.


Joyceann Wycoff said...

"giving the world our best." I love that. Sometimes I wonder if the Jacks in the world have come here to prompt generosity and humanity in others. Maybe we would forget completely if we didn't have reminders.

Stay warm ... and may Jack's last days be warm and peaceful.

Maureen said...

Diane wrote a poem that she posted today that draws a striking contrast between the haves and have-nots.

I wish people would get as upset about homelessness and poverty as they do a pat down at the airport. But also that they'd show, as you say, "humanity". But for the grace of God go any one of us.

Hope you stay warm! said...

So powerful, this post. I wish we could publish it somewhere where EVERYone would see it and understand.

I am so grateful you live in the world; so grateful you do what you do; so grateful you take the time to write what you write...

Stay warm, dear friend. and keep sharing the warmth!

Jeff Jordan said...

Time is running out. I've been made acutely aware of that this week. Your words are a blessing and so are you.

Thanks for your comments on my latest post too:)