I live in a strange city. It is framed by mountains. Edged by ocean. Cleansed by frequent rains. It is stunningly beautiful and increasingly inaccessible. Too expensive for almost everyone. It has definite boundaries. Not so much a rich/poor division. But absolute areas of wealth and privilege. And areas of absolute not. This used to be a pure east, west divide but that has blurred. Everywhere is expensive and the gentrification has pushed into areas once ignored and avoided.
Now there are small pockets. Pieces of the city where addiction, pain and damage reign supreme. Places where you either don’t look or you don’t know. Places where many don’t go if they don’t have to. Places we pretend aren’t there.
One intersection is infamous. Main and Hastings. Pick a corner and you can find lots of things; many you don’t want to find. Of course you see what you perceive. Some see addicts and crime and various unsavoury elements of the human condition. A place of fear and danger. Others see addiction and pain and vulnerability. A place of inequity and need. Some people avert their eyes. Others stare in disbelief.
Every time I pass, I search. I look for what I never want to see: past students now on the streets. Current students in unsafe situations. This corner is not far from where I teach. It is the not too distant past of many of our families. If has lures still faintly planted in dangerous and precarious ways.
This morning, I went by on the bus before 7:30 a.m. on the way to a literacy conference. Much of the city was still quiet and empty. Not here. There were people everywhere. As usual, I scanned the corners, the streets and nearby alleys, focussed on what I didn’t want to find. Quickly relieved, I allowed myself to absorb the details of what I saw. To just notice.
What I found was not what I expected. I worried about danger and risk but I saw gentle and kind and tenderness.
An old grandpa walked steadily behind his young grandson who ran in circles ahead and back. He had his grandfather’s cane and he waved it wildly through the air giggling. He roared into circles of pecking pigeons, scattering them briefly before they settled down again. He garnered smiles from a toothless woman teetering against a building. His grandpa engaged him in chatter and reprimands. He smiled big and bright, spreading morning sunshine as he ran.
An old man was supported by a younger woman hardly steadier or stronger to walk down the street. They leaned into each other, needing to stop but carrying on. Her right arm stretched out to balance them as she teetered on too high heels. Too high for morning. Too high for walking. Just fine for helping.
Three figures huddled around a doorway where someone had camped out, still partially prone under a sleeping bag. Shopping bags filled with belongings were stashed against a wall. The four of them spoke intently and I watched ever so briefly as 2 coffee cups were passed back and forth, steam still rising.
I looked to see what I didn’t want to see. I found what I didn’t expect. Of course, it’s there. The connection, the care, the living. My fear occupies such a large space, it wasn’t allowing me to see it.
But eyes on the corner, judgement to the side, I was humbled.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.