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Robert Kinghorn: Walking down the lane called hope

  • November 12, 2020

There are some sounds you just don’t expect to hear downtown. Police and ambulance sirens intermingled with fights and screaming are commonplace, but as I passed a darkened lane, I heard the soothing sound of someone singing the 1929 chart topper, “Tiptoe through the tulips.”

I was really not supposed to be passing that lane. I had made a detour from my normal route to try to talk with a lady I had seen who was negotiating with a potential client in a car. It was on this detour that I was being invited to “Tiptoe through the tulips.” From the shadows there emerged a young lady, and when I complimented her on her singing she said, “It’s my favourite song. It makes me happy.”

“My name is Deacon Robert, are you staying around here?” With that simple question, the words and emotions came pouring out of her as if some carefully constructed dam had burst.

“I’m Jen, and no I don’t stay around here, I’m homeless. I was brought up Catholic and I had wonderful teachers. I still remember all their names, but I got in with the wrong people and made bad decisions. I feel so guilty about the decisions I have made in my life and feel I can never be forgiven. Pray for my mother that she can forgive me. I have hurt her so much because I was not a good mother to my children. She can’t forgive me, my father can’t forgive me, my aunts and uncles can’t forgive me, my children can’t forgive me. None of them will talk with me now. Do you think God can forgive me? People all say I am a sinner. Why will they not give me a second chance? Everyone deserves a second chance.”

I looked into her eyes, eyes beginning to well up as if the guilt and hurt of her life was about to break through in a torrent of tears. “We both believe in Jesus,” I said. “In my life I need a second, third, fourth, in fact many chances, and He always says, ‘Yes, you are forgiven.’ Please believe me, you are forgiven. You have to try to forgive yourself too. Sometimes people are so hurt by life that they make bad choices, and they want to run away and mask the pain with drugs or alcohol.”

With that, I handed her my card and invited her to call or e-mail whenever she needed support. “The Church on the Street,” she said, looking at the card. “That’s brilliant. I love that. So, the Church is here walking on the street with me?”

“Yes,” I replied, “and I meet people like you who are the Church too, waiting here on the street. I have seen many people on the street over the years, and there are some that I see a spark in their eyes, and the love that they have for others, and somehow I know they will make it. I see that in you right now.”

“Really, you do?” she whispered. “Yes, really,” I said. At this her smile blossomed. “You made my day. Thank you. Can I walk with you to where you are going? Maybe you are embarrassed to walk with me.”

As we made our way back through the downtown area, I assured her I was not in the least embarrassed. “I am worried about the world,” she said, “so much hate. We all live in the same world, as if we are all in the same apartment building. Why do people hurt one another? I think everyone needs a good foundation of belief, like a Christian foundation. You know I write plays and poetry. It would be great if I could write a play for you. Would you want that?”

“I would love that,” I assured her. “We need more artists like you because they help us all to see the beauty in life.”

When we reached my car I asked, “May I pray for you and give you a blessing?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “Please pray that my mother and children will forgive me and that we can be together again. I know it will take time, but you have given me hope to try again.”

Pope Francis once said, “No one learns to hope alone.” This evening both of us found new hope, and as we parted ways, she left me wondering who really is the saint, and who ministered to whom.

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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