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Robert Kinghorn: Holding on with hope and gratitude

  • March 7, 2021

In many ways, gratitude is the basis of love.

If we are not grateful, then we take for granted.

If we take for granted, then we start to ignore.

If we ignore, then our love grows cold.

This is never more appreciated than during the season of Lent, when having fallen so often, we turn again to the One who walks with us on life’s journey. Those on the street are no different: they fall, they rise and often fall again.

I have always made a point of following up with those who have made it off the streets, since the recovery statistics are not good for those who try to go it alone. Perhaps it is the effect of the pandemic, but in the last couple of months I have received calls from several whose recovery at this moment is fragile. 

I met Peggy some 15 years ago and over that time I have moved her and her belongings eight times as she progressed from shelters to independent living, and then back into the shelter system as the result of a drug relapse and catching COVID. A month ago, she called and asked for the “Deacon Kinghorn moving company.”

The good news was that she had found suitable accommodation and needed “a few things” moved. She asked if I could drive a “cube van” which made me wonder about the extent of her worldly belongings. As it turned out, five small containers and a garbage bag were all she had to her name, and my van was large enough to drive them the few blocks to her new home.

However, given the virus lockdown in the city, I struggled with the question of whether this was an essential service and if so, how to do it safely. After much discussion, early Sunday morning found me parked outside her shelter as she and her son brought their worldly possessions and left them by the sidewalk as they walked to their new home.

With multi-layers of masks and gloves I loaded the possessions into the van and drove over to their new apartment. There I unloaded them and hopped back into the van waiting for them to come and take them into the building. Later that night, she sent me a picture of the two of them in the new apartment, and seated beside her was Care Bear, a stuffed toy that has been her constant companion since the first move we made together 14 years ago. And so, a new chapter of hope begins for Peggy and her son.

Jan had been on the streets since a teenager when I met her 14 years ago. It has been a long journey with more downs than ups. However, Feb. 3 this year marked the fourth anniversary of her clean date, and when I called to congratulate her, I could hear the despondency in her voice. She said that she was struggling, not to keep clean, since she was committed to that, but she was having trouble coping with the stress in her life.

She had worked her way through college and had started as an addictions’ counsellor, but the stress of the job brought back memories of her own life. On top of that her close friend had died. “Please pray for me Deacon Robert,” she said. “I know I’ll make it through, but right now I’m just hanging on.”

In the past such a plea resulted in us meeting to talk, but the COVID restrictions limited us to a phone conversation. These are the moments we understand our helplessness as we fall on our knees in prayer.

Denise has a different struggle, one that is both joy-filled and fearful. Our journey together began 16 years ago and has been marked by a succession of mental health problems which compounded her addiction. The death of her mother a few years ago was a great setback, one that she has never quite overcome.

During her most recent descent into addiction, she became pregnant and the reality shocked her into recovery once more. She was determined to bring a healthy child into the world and she delights in showing pictures of the developing child within. With only a few more weeks to go, she is grateful for this gift of motherhood and is determined not to take it for granted, and so lose the love that she has within.

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

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