A man stands with his belongings as unhoused people begin removing tent structures in Vancouver. CNS photo/Jesse Winter, Reuters

Hope springs meeting the Lord on the street

  • December 22, 2022

The weather had suddenly turned cold. What had promised to be a pleasant walk on the street had slowly but consistently chilled throughout the day until several layers of clothing were required to repel the harsh winter wind. It was certainly no evening for a man to be shuffling along George Street agonizingly slowly. 

He lived in the local shelter, and the only way he was able to walk was to hold on to the fence outside the buildings and move hand-over-hand while he shuffled forward about five centimeters. His long, tortuous journey would take him about 25 minutes to reach his destination. I felt so helpless; there was no wheelchair around, and little I could do except cross over, smile and say “hello.” However, that seemed so inadequate at the moment. I thought of the words of Isaiah which we had recently heard in Advent, “The lame shall leap like a deer,” and wondered to myself, “When O Lord, when?” 

I soon realized that “helplessness” seemed to be the theme for the evening.

I walked the short distance to the more volatile area of downtown and saw something which raised my antenna. A tall, 30-something man was talking to a young girl who was probably in her mid-teens, intermittently arguing as they walked along. I decided to follow at a distance to evaluate the situation, and to decide if the girl was a willing participant. They crossed the road and entered an apartment building which has a reputation for drug use. When they went through the interior door another older girl was leaving and the two girls embraced before the couple continued on their way into the building. 

I had the feeling I knew this older girl who came out of the building, and so I crossed the street to talk with her to see if she could shed any light on the situation. However, she was completely crazed with drugs, and although she recognized me, she was incoherent. Once again, the helpless feeling drifted through my heart as I continued with the evening, moving to the area where prostitutes are most likely to be found on the street. 

At first, I thought the street was empty, but in the distance, I saw a lady that I did not recognize. As I got closer, it was clear that she was peering into the passing cars, hopeful that she could negotiate a deal with the driver. I stopped and talked with her for a while, and she was more than willing to talk about her life. Then she broke off the conversation and walked to a passing car that had pulled over. 

Some ask me if I get discouraged with evenings like this, but so often something happens to remind me of the importance of just being consistently present. 

In this case, it was a meeting I attended a few days later. One of the ladies I have written about in these columns was celebrating 16 years sobriety at her Narcotics Anonymous group. I had been invited to speak about her faith and courage that had sustained her over these drug-free years. I looked around and realized that I knew about six people there: people I had met over the years who had come into my life on the streets and then moved on. 

Most of them I had lost track of, but there they were still drug-free after many years of sobriety. For me it was a great reunion, but for them it was just one more day of celebrating a drug-free life. 

Perhaps the most beautiful moment was when a lady I recognized walked in. I had often nodded to her and been ignored. She walked into the room and stood up to say that it was her first meeting, and she was there to get the support she needed from her fellow addicts. 

I was reminded that we are living in a creation that is unfinished. We are always living in Advent until the day we can embrace the Christ child and His Father in Heaven. On that day the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled, and the lame will leap like a deer and the poor who cannot speak will sing for joy. 

Until that day, as they say at the 12-step programs, we will “keep coming back” and I will “keep going out” to meet the Lord on  The Church on the Street. 

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

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