I was walking though old Montreal one sweltering day last July, down a side street, off the tourist track. The woman in front of me was on her lunch hour too, I assumed. She was walking slowly, no bag, no purse, no camera, all alone. A regular. Further up, a man sat on low wall in front of a condo building. He held his baseball cap by the visor, upturned. In Montreal-speak this means “got any change?” and not “whew it’s hot, I’m taking a break”. The are two men’s shelters in a half mile radius; this isn’t an uncommon sight.
They both caught my attention because as the woman went by him, she reached out and put something in the cap. But it didn’t jingle like change. Here, even ones and twos are coins. Maybe she had given him just one coin and his cap was empty? But more than that it was how she did it. Nether looked at each other. She kept staring straight ahead, he was looking down. It was like slipping someone a note. It was like an exchange in a spy movie. I had to look; blame it on an ingrained job habit. She’d left him a five dollar bill. He never even glanced up, but discretely retrieved it and put it in his pocket, perhaps worried a breeze might blow it away.
Homeless guy slowly lifts his head, blinking in the sun. The hazel eyes and scraggly blond beard belong to a young face. A few strands of hair show from under a woolen cap, greasy and matted to his forehead. “Got my toast and cheese, man?” he asks in a hoarse voice, taking a gulp of coffee.
“Right here,” answers Michael pulling a paper bag from his coat.
He nods his thanks and takes a bite so fast I think he’s chewed right through the wrapper. I stare at the tableau before me, two very different men in two very different lives. The waitress watches in the window, quickly brushing her cheek before turning away. Closed Doors (©2017. All rights reserved.)
I had a hundred and one questions. (Still the job habit). How often did she do this? Did she know him, like as a regular in her environment? Figuring once a week for, let’s say, 45 weeks, that’s 225$. It that her form of charitable donations? Maybe it was a one time thing. But who goes around with a fiver at the ready, unless you plan on it?
Here’s my point: a little goes along way. I think a lot of us see charity as either a large, one time monetary contribution that gets our name on a hospital wing. Or volunteering at a level that borders on Nobel prize worthy. Like a lot of other things, we don’t start because we predict we won’t excel. We won’t be great. “If I ever won a lot of money I’d give some to…” “When I retire I’d like to volunteer for…”
And so, another door stays closed.
If it isn’t big we think it doesn’t count. It does. Five dollars does. Some change does. It adds up. You don’t have to commit to a volunteering schedule. It can be once a month, it can be once a week. It can be when you can.
I knit baby bonnets. The ones they give newborns in the hospital. It’s on my own time. No schedule, no quota, just the same pattern over and over, so it’s become easy. I’ve begun sewing simple girl’s dresses for another organization. I’m slow. It’s ok. A friend does translation for a sports organization. An aunt, who lived in a rural area, was homebound one winter while undergoing chemo. She bought a load of brightly coloured fabrics and sewed children’s underwear. Dozens of pairs, that she gave to a religious congregation near her house, to later be delivered to their missions in other countries. No feeling sorry for herself; feeling good in doing good. Good touches those benefit, who do it and who witness it. That’s why we all like it.
Insert photo: the author.