Friday, December 3, 2010

Where's the right?

I sat with Jack*, one of our clients, the other night for an hour, talking about his life, his journey to the shelter and his hopes and dreams for the future.

Haven't got a lot of dreams for the future, he told me. Haven't got a lot of time.

He's been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They won't operate and it is aggressive.

Jack's life was once rich with possibility. He was a long-haul truck driver specializing in the movement of horses. He's travelled all over North America hauling priceless equine stock to rodeos and horse events. He's known great names and great people and some not so great too. His driven the circuit, loved the horses, loved the life.

The only thing I wish I'd done was go to Europe. I always wanted to travel overseas.


He shrugs his left shoulder.

That ain't gonna happen now.

He lived the life he wanted and then, through a series of unfortunate events, some poor planning, poor decision-making, Jack ended up at the shelter door three years ago. He'd never been there before. Never needed our services. Life was his for the taking. He was living it up in the moment. Why would he need to think about the future?

And then he ended up where he never thought he'd be. Homeless.

When I asked Jack if he could tell the world one thing, what would it be, he said he'd tell people to pay attention to the future. To not take what they've got for granted. To live in the moment but to ensure their future moments were lived 'their way' with good financial planning.

I had it all and didn't think it would ever go away, he said.

And then it did.

And then he had nothing.

And now, he's at the shelter. Fifty-nine years old. Diagnosed with cancer. Unable to work. Unable to move along. It's a catch twenty-two, he says. To do what he's good at, what he knows, he needs a truck, trailer, equipment. And that takes money. And good health too. And that he doesn't have much of.

Nobody wants to hire a guy my age, he says. Even before the cancer. Nobody wants to hire some guy in his fifties with little education. There are a hundred young guys out there who can do the same job, faster, easier and without risking their health. An employer ain't gonna risk it on an old guy.

And so, he landed at the shelter door and struggled to find his balance. He volunteered every day, whenever he could because he could and because it gave him a chance to give back and to keep busy.

They won't let me volunteer as much now, he says. I'm supposed to rest. Hell. I've got eternity to rest. Why do I need to start resting now?

He's worked with our medical staff and counsellors to fill in the paperwork for medical assistance. He might even be eligible for retroactive funding.

They said I might even get some lump sum money because it takes a few months for the paperwork to be processed, he tells me. If I do, I know what I'm going to do with it.

And he smiles. A mischievous grin peeking out through his beard.

I'm going travelling. I want to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Never done that. Been there, twice, but never done that.

I have no regrets he says. No I shoulda done. Shouldn't a' done. Except maybe the money part. Maybe the taking care of my financial business.

And he pauses and smiles. Can't change the past. Gotta deal with what's in front of me. No sense complaining. Nobody's listening and anyway, my complaining ain't gonna change anything.

A stalwart man. A man of integrity. Opinionated. Gruff and kind. Wicked sense of humour. A flirt. A thoughtful soul. A gentle spirit.

The youth, they gotta get out of this place. They're just sinking staying here. They've got no motivation. No ambition. It's a shame.

For us old guys, a place like this is necessary. We don't have the same prospects and where would I be if it hadn't been for this place?

And then he tells me of putting his dinner plate down, walking off to get a smoke to return to find someone had taken his dinner.

It's not right, he said. It's just not right.

I wonder where is the rightness in any of it? Where is the rightness in someone who paid his dues all his life. Didn't 'use' nor abuse the system who when they needed it found themselves with no alternative but a homeless shelter.

Sure, the shelter is supported by the system. And sure, the shelter is there for people like Jack. But still, I wonder, where's the rightness in a man who never asked for much, getting nothing when he needs it most?

Jack's Christmas WishList wish? A Greyhound bus ticket to go anywhere.


Maureen said...

The question you ask has no answer, of course; any one of us could be in the same place as Jack. . . and that's why it is so important that we see, really see, the human being Jack is. It's why the work that you and others do at your shelter and shelters everywhere is so important.

May Jack's Christmas wish come true.

Anonymous said...

sometimes life is so heartless. Jack is lucky to be blessed by people like you. Thank God for that.

May God shower him with well deserved happiness.


Claudia said...

you're doing a great job in the shelter..unfortunately there are way too many jacks in the world and somehow our system doesn't manage to catch them

jen revved said...

This is very moving... as M said we all know Jack and may have even been Jack ourselves... best not to ever forget or stop reaching out--xxxj

S. Etole said...

You do ask hard questions ...

and serve well.

M.L. Gallagher said...

I chatted with Jack yesterday -- whose real name is Terry -- to let him read the piece I'd written on him before I post it on the shelter's blog.

He lay on his bed in the Special Care Section of the third floor, an area where thsoe with medical needs can rest all day, or whenever they need.

He started to read the piece and I noticed he wiped one eye and then, he kept reading and then his cheeks got moist, and my eyes got moist and I reached for his hand and he gripped mine and we smiled, that smile that needs no words.

and then he said in his gruff way. "You tell those daughters of yours they'd best do good. Cause if they strain, don't matter where I am, down here or up there, I'll be coming after them to set them straight."

Moments to live by.

Thands everyone for stopping in to comment. You create wonder with your words.

Sandra Heska King said...

Everybody has a story. I know that Terry is blessed to have you part of his.