A few weeks ago, a well-dressed gentleman approached me and asked for a toonie. Without question, word or thought, I reached into my purse and fumbled around for change. Because my earphones were plugged into my ears, I didn’t know why he needed a toonie but I handed it to him anyway. As I walked away, I started questioning myself: Why on Earth did I do that?! I willingly handed money over to a complete stranger but I would never do that with a homeless person on the street. How did this person differ from a homeless person?!
It was cold and windy yesterday and I sought for warmth and comfort at Starbucks on Bloor. While I was typing furiously away on my computer, a homeless man came towards my table. I saw him from the corner of my eye and before he could approach me, my head was shaking from left to right — my usual gesture when homeless folks come forth for change. When he walked away from me, I started to take interest in this particular individual as he walked around the tiny cafe asking for change. Finally, a gentleman reached into his pocket and told him: “I’ll give you change only if you purchase a cup of hot coffee for yourself”. The homeless person agreed and an exchange took place — money and a thank you. A few minutes later, the homeless person reemerged with a grande cup of steaming hot coffee and proceeded to add multiple packets of sugar and milk into it. Meanwhile, I sat at my table, quietly taking this scene in before returning to work.
About an hour later, the same homeless man reappeared and approached my table again. Similar to my previous action, my head went shaking from left to right with a look of displeasure because I was momentarily interrupted from work. However, over the next few minutes, that action of mine started to sink into my conscious psyche. I looked up and instead of seeing the homeless person, I saw a human being. I saw an individual who is alike me, struggling for survival to the best of our ability. This person is made up of flesh and blood, and he is indeed no different from me. Then, I recalled my previous act of kindness towards the well-dressed gentleman, I questioned myself again: Why couldn’t I offer a toonie to this homeless individual? I don’t know why he would need money but I needn’t question him because he would use the change to the fullest potential that he knows how, and that’s his problem. I am in no place to judge this individual.
I felt an acute sense of shame. If you don’t already know, I’m a huge advocate for human rights, particularly girl and women rights. My hope is to fight for equality and give women/girls a strong sense of self. But this very action of not offering change to this individual makes me a hypocrite. How can I fight for equality when I can’t even bring myself down to a human level and stop judging individuals based on their physical appearance including dress sense, wealth, looks, etc. Emotions welled up in me and I reached into my purse for change, hoping that this individual would reemerge for me to pass him change. Unfortunately, he didn’t.
On my walk home, I passed by yet another homeless individual asking for TTC (subway) tokens or spare change. Again! I walked pass him without acknowledging his presence though the cardboard sign in his trembling hands was in clear view. Thankfully, it took a few seconds for me to realize my actions which brought me to an abrupt stop. I turned around and headed back towards this individual and handed him my TTC token, one that I refused to use because home was just a few stops away. This individual however, would use the subway for shelter and warmth in this icy cold weather.
I’m not proud of my actions but glad that this sense of awareness dawned upon me. I’m not financially wealthy nor poor and there are many ways to offer love to people around us which needn’t always be in monetary terms. A warm cup of coffee to warm hands up; a subway token for a night’s rest in warmth; a conversation to let people know that we care; etc. This also taught me another lesson: I ought to stop judging people and really practice what I preach — equality for all of humanity, and all living things in this world.