Sunday, November 30, 2008

Let them eat change

A little girl on the corner of Robson and Howe reaches for her pocket.

Mommy, I want to give.

It was my little girl. He was a youngish fella in a wheelchair, cap in hand friendly on a soggy Vancouver Sunday. Even friendlier when she dropped in the change. A whole dollar was what she chose, though I suggested a jingle-jangle quarter; she really doesn't know the difference.

Warm smiles among us all. A lovely end to a spend-free trip downtown thinking about what, if any, shopping we might do this Christmas. A happy day only a bit consciously carefree.

First thing we'd packed our glorious van with cast-offs from the kids closets -- to give. Both of us forcedly explaining how we must share what we no longer need with those who can use it; strangers. Our tongues tripping on "what is poor?" We headed for the poorest neighbourhood in Canada, the downtown eastside.

Ah my dear conscience and child conspire. They prick the awkwardness of the morning magnanimity showing it too easy. And, as always for us much too much is too easy. I know the downtown eastside, do NOT bring your pity. They are fierce, smashed to smitherines, yes, but not to be pitied. How dare I? There are the poor I locate in a wave of a hand for my kids. Over there at this drop-in give them three bags of hand-me-downs. Downs.

I was never a bright child about the pains of class. I am a true Canadian in that regard, hiding behind the myth of our classlessness. I don't know that my ignorance was only bad, though. Thankful am I for that full array of friends I had at my mixed-up small public school. They stay with me, the ease I have citywide for one. The fact that, like my girl today, I don't fear the poor or reel from those who might stand for 'other.' In my father's house given a choice between a filthy beggar and a pompous ass we would always choose the former. I know I am just a grandpa away myself.

In my life the regret for oversimplifying it all did come. When I had to pay my own way I started to really get it. It would echo to me. Friends without, the women at risk. The horror in my mother's voice when my playmate's poorer mother came down with Multiple Sclerosis. The agonies she must have truly had, especially as she was the breadwinner to a nearly dead-beat dad. I am ashamed of the obliviousness. But I will not wallow in it. I cringe at the nobility made of savages no matter how articulate the class commentary.

People. Not class. People being valued not weighed. So hard to lay plain.

The poor they might be on my street. Our neighbours hold secrets I cannot explain away with the convenience of heroin and alcohol, the things I called 'poisons' for the comprehension of my four-year old. Our trip downtown this morning was an intersection with the 'easy poor'. The ones we cannot legislate away or be more taxed to catch in a safety net. What about the other ones, the downtrodden, might be strived for? What will I do for them? Something trickier than unloading my old baby blankets? Any real change?

I don't often give to panhandlers and somehow I will find a way to explain that to the girl but today it sat well. All the better for the attention it put on how complicated all we come to know must be. All the better for the pressure it placed on us not just to know but to share... and to give. Seriously.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree and this post tackles the complexity so beautifully. I so love your little girl for her gift, not the dollar but that she saw, understood, didn't look past or away.

3:00 p.m.  
Blogger Mad said...

I meant to comment on this the other day. Life has been swallowing me alive lately.

The downtown eastside paints it so broadly doesn't it? I do not see that level of poverty, addiction and hopelessness here. It can become very easy to pretend that class issues are issues and not people when the very people in crisis are hidden from our view.

11:44 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of days ago I was on my way into the big jar store on Cambie when I was accosted by a beggar. I didn't give him any money, but on the way out, brown bag in hand, I dropped $5 into the Sally Ann kettle they had in the store's vestibule. The beggar saw me do this, and was none too pleased. "That shoulda been mine, he declared."

- Geoff G.

4:31 p.m.  

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