"And to you too," I call out as we pass and walk away from each other.
That brief encounter puts a smile in my face. Lightens my step. I try it out on the next person I pass. "Merry Christmas!" I call out as I keep walking.
Startled, the passerby, hesitates and then replies, "Merry Christmas to you." And we continue on our way.
At the stop light, I wait for the light to turn green. I feel a presence walking up behind me. A shadow drifting down the sidewalk towards me.
I know it is a man. There is no one else around. This is not always a 'great' part of town. I grip the shoulder strap of my handbag a bit more tightly.
And from behind me a voice calls out, "Merry Christmas, Louise!"
I turn and the man whose shadow edged into my peripheral vision causing some concern stands smiling at me. He is well dressed. Nice black jacket. Blond hair. Clean looking.
"Merry Christmas to you too," I reply. I am not sure where I know him from. I cannot think of his name.
"You know I'm out of there?" he says quickly.
I don't need an explanation of 'out of there'. I know exactly where he means. Out of there is the homeless shelter where I work.
"I didn't know that," I reply. "How wonderful for you!"
The light turns green, I need to cross. He points along the avenue, towards downtown. "You going that way?"
"Yes I am," I reply.
He smiles. "Me too! I'll walk with you awhile."
And we start to walk westward along the avenue.
"Got me a kitchenette. Almost 1,000 a month. Thirty three dollars and fifty three cents a day. But I get free cable, heat, electricity and phone. I think I can make it."
"Are you working?" I ask.
"Yeah. Well, I was working full-time. Over on that big project on 8th. But they laid everybody off. Well, not everybody, but 21 of us in one week. So, I'm doing some temp. Got a fulltime gig for awhile over at Southland and McLeod. Bit of a hike out of downtown everyday. Transit costs me $5.00 a day. But for now, I'm making it."
"You look great!" I tell him. "Being out suits you."
He smiles. A toothy smile. He's smoking as we walk but the air pushes his smoke away. I'm used to it, mostly. So many of the people we serve at the shelter smoke. For many, it is the only thing of their 'former lives' they have left to cling to. The only thing they cannot give up.
"It's sure expensive out of there though. Like I had forgotten how much it costs to just keep yourself going every day."
"The reality of life," I laugh with him. He takes a drag on his cigarette and I notice his hands are bare.
"Aren't your hands cold?" I ask him.
He looks at them as if he's just noticing them. It is cold. His hands are red and chafed.
"Gloves cost so much. One thing about not being there, you don't get nothing for free out here."
"You are still welcome to come in and get gloves," I tell him. "You can still come and get things you need. We're always there to help."
He sighs. "Yeah. I know. But I don't like to go back. I get scared I might get stuck again. I don't want to go back."
We reach a corner. The light is green for me to keep walking west. He points south. "This is where I leave you," he says. "Merry Christmas."
I stop walking. Turn to face him.
"I apologize," I say. "I forget your name."
"That's okay. You meet so many people. Randy. I'm Randy."
He breaks into a huge smile. "That would be great!"
And we hug and I continue on my way as he waits for his light to turn green. "I'll be back!" he yells to my departing back.
"Make sure you come visit me," I call out.
And my step is light. My heart at ease. I smile at passersby. Say hello. Merry Christmas.
And people respond and smile back. And smiles ripple out along the street. Good cheer radiates through the air.
And I realize, it wasn't that people weren't saying Merry Christmas to me. It didn't matter that people weren't greeting me first. What matters is, like the first man who approached and called out, I am reaching out to welcome strangers from a heartfelt place, creating good-tidings of Peace. Love. and Joy as I pass.