Not Just One Man’s Story
Who is there to care for you when there is no place to go?What would your life be like if all your possessions belonged in a single, ratty and torn paper bag? I have a little story for you;
Clearly I was at the wrong address. Running late for an important meeting and nerves on the edge of meltdown, I was lost inside this decrepit old building. I had no one to blame but myself for this fiasco. Too busy thinking about my upcoming promotion, I didn’t take the time to map the area properly. I was wrapped up in my thoughts and just didn’t bother. Something I later regretted. As if I needed that on top of the repairs to my Jeep. It was about to be a very long day indeed.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the elevator or not – it stunk of urine, but then, so did the rest of the building. The elevator clanked and thudded to a halt, and since I was already late, the run down twelve flights of roach infested and sticky steps was less appealing than the quick run in an elevator that was open in front of me.
Busy fumbling with the satchel that housed my laptop and presentation folder, I didn’t notice the man already aboard the dim and grimy elevator at first. His gnarled and grubby fingers clenched his tin of Bush’s baked beans, he eyed me like a cat who had just captured a bird in flight. An almost panicked look crossed his features. Then, after glancing between myself and the beans, he thrust the rust-flecked can in my direction and nodded toward it with a modest grin. I shook my head and turned back to stare at the half-lit numbers on the board beside the doors. Why were they moving so slowly?
I could feel the man’ eyes boring into my back. I pulled the satchel forward and laid my arm across it’s clasp. After what felt like an hour instead of a minute, we jerked to a halt and the doors scraped open. A brush of muggy air caught my hair and I jumped, unsettled from the nerve-rattling experience. I rushed off into the street where I would finally be able to get a signal on my mobile and called the office. After getting the correct address, I raced back into the subway corridor I had left 30 minutes prior and headed to the opposite platform to await my train. I was certain that bean man was following me. I nervously searched the waiting area behind me, but he wasn’t there.
I was being silly. Why would he follow me? The train came, and even after I was settled in a seat where I had full view all about me, I could have sworn the man was still pursuing me. Another swift glance about, I found no trace of the man. As I shifted the bag on my lap, I happened a glance at the near empty seat beside me, where something odd caught my attention. It wasn’t the man from the derelict building, but the morning’s edition of the Globe and Mail.
My stop was coming up, so I snatched the newspaper and shoved it into the side pocket of my satchel. I am not sure why I did it – I don’t usually read the news. The streets were bustling downtown, as they always were during rush hour. I slipped into the building across the street, after matching the address with my scribbled note. I breathed a sigh of relief when I pressed the button to the eleventh floor. This elevator was spotless and a hint of cologne and honey wafted through the vents. I could see my reflection on the highly polished chrome hand rail that ran the circumference of the elevator, and thought fleetingly that I should have worn the navy dress jacket with the necklace I chose. Oh well, it will pass.
I checked in with the secretary, who informed me the Director had taken the 9:15 appointment in my place and I would have to wait my turn. The day was not getting off to a good start. I sipped the water I brought with me, and had all but forgotten about. As I opened my bag to set the bottle back into the proper pocket, I noticed the paper from the train and pulled it out. Might as well have a look if I was going to have to wait.
When I held the newspaper to look at the cover, from beneath a dried coffee stain, I read the headline – “Gerry Schwartz’s $64-million year.” I read most of the short article before being called to my meeting. Something unexpected happened during the interview. I was suddenly uncertain I really had a desire for this position after all. I couldn’t stop thinking about the ‘bean man’ – and the headline of the Globe and Mail. Interview behind me, I went to the corner Cafe to have a cup of my favourite coffee and reread the article, this time soaking in the meaning behind it.
I sat back, once I finished reading, thinking about the man from this morning’s mix-up. I overheard someone at the counter talking about ‘Schwartz and his 64 million dollar paycheque’. “Isn’t that incredible? What I could buy with dough like that!” Something along those lines, was the remark.
On my way home, after picking up my Jeep and paying a hefty sum for the repair, I had time to reflect on the morning’s events. Was it just noon-hour now, I remember thinking. It seemed one of the longest days ever. I realised why I had the feeling that Mr. Bean Man was following me this morning .. because he was. Not physically, but in the back of my mind, something about the man stayed with me. As he held those precious beans, without utensil to eat them with, he thought to offer a serving to a perfect stranger. He had a kindness that I did not have to return to him. Here I treated him as though he were a thief, a beggar .. a nobody. Nobody but a nuisance.
It was not the man that was following me, but my conscience reminding me that I had strayed from the path of humanity. What had happened to me? Since I had moved into the new house and found my way to ‘Director’ at my firm, things have changed. At least that was the way I had viewed the world. The world has not moved in the same direction as I have; it has remained full of pain and misery as it always had been, but my eyes have been blinded to it. And I had turned my back, and forgotten that it existed.
People were talking about the man with the multi-million dollar paycheque .. but who is talking about the gentle man with the can of beans and holed shoes? The man who lived in filth because he had nowhere else to go? The man who thought that someone would care that he was offering a cold-eyed stranger some of the only meal he would likely have that day, or for many days, for all I knew? Who was going to look after that man when he could no longer open his only can of beans?
The truth is, the world won’t care if that man never eats again. It is one less burden on society. One less tenant for the owner of a building that should be condemned to concern himself with. And, no one is going to care about the man’s beans today, but will read the paper the next day to find out how much money the next tycoon made. And as they dream about and discuss what they would do with that kind of cash, thousand of bellies will rumble with the pain of hunger, and countless more will sleep in the streets that night.
The above story is fictional, of course. Many people however have found themselves in similar situations. The difference is, we need to do something more than talk about it. We need to show we care by our actions. We don’t have the money and resources to do much as individuals, but need to do our part. Volunteer, or donate whatever we can, but above all, show humanity toward others. People who find themselves homeless or hungry have not done so willingly. In fact, were we to take the time to hear individual stories, we would find that there is a reason for each and every one. Whether it be lost income, poverty line income, mental illness, addiction, or simple hopelessness, there is always a valid reason. Some will argue that there is always a way out, but this is not invariably true.
Take the case of an elderly man, Al Gosling, who at 82, found himself homeless over a simple misunderstanding over some paperwork regarding his income. The 93 pound man found a little corner beneath a stairwell of the low-income building he was evicted from to sleep in. Then the police were called on a complaint, and he was moved to a homeless shelter, where he became gravely ill. After a time in hospital, Mr. Gosling was unable to fight off a fatal infection and passed away. A tragic story, and this one is not fictional, but is all too real in today’s world. As a society, we come up raw on may issues, wherein we do not use our resources to their fullest potential. The money and energy are not put in the correct effectual order. Things are often done in hindsight, too late to distribute help where it is needed most.
“You hear about Gerry Schwartz’ paycheck on the front page of the Globe and Mail, celebrating his tremendous contribution to Onex and his shareholders. Triumphant and glorious in their ability to amass wealth. Yet, the man who walks with his half-eaten can of beans remains hidden away, so that we can pretend he, or any like him, do not exist. Ethics and moral compass is not high on their radar.”
“Who are the real heroes in society?” A valid question. It is not the rich tycoons that make and take home their millions to spend on luxury automobiles and lavish vacations. The real heroes are the ones who will go out of their way to help better our society. Even if you think it is a small token, and can not make any difference, we must do it. Why? Because no gesture is ever too small. If we gave up all gestures because we thought they were insignificant, nothing would ever be accomplished. To reach out and offer your hand is sometimes enough. Help does not always come in a monetary form.
Why do we glorify those who are too busy glorifying themselves? We place them on a pedestal, and for what? What have they done to better the real world? I am not saying that all of these people have not done anything to lend a hand, but when was the last time the celebrity news told about the ‘good deeds’ that Mr. Movie Star did on the cover of their rag magazines? They would prefer to write about the scandal at Mr. Movie Star’s wedding .. because we will want to read it. When did we stop caring about the good deeds, and begin giving precedence to gossip?
“Why must we praise and follow with a ravenous appetite, reality celebs? Have we lost our focus on society and what matters the most? What are our social values really? Do we even have any?” Ant further states, “The popularity of the iPad, iPhone, iPod is indicative of our priorities in life. And isn’t it ironic the foundations that Apple was built on is exactly the opposite of what it has become. Perhaps it is symbolic that it should rise to become the most valuable asset on this Planet we call Earth.”
Symbolism? Irony? Are we even sure what value we place on society, or where our values and morals are supposed to be? What are morals and values? We need to face this issue head on, and not falter once resolve is made to correct it. Do our part. Volunteer your time to someone else who needs you. In our darkest hours, who will be there for us? When we are 82, and have no living relatives, who will speak for us? Where will our voices carry to, when we can no longer remember our own names or where we live? I would like to think none of us would ever be alone in this world, but that is not reality. Reality is this; we will all need someone to help us, sometime in our lives, but right now, we need to lend a hand to the one that needs ours.
Society has become too materialistic to care about anything but the almighty dollar, power, success and glory. All you have to do is read a magazine cover while standing in line at the supermarket to see how gossip has taken over, where real life used to be. Sometimes it is easier to face fantasy than it is to face reality. Fantasy can be turned off, reality is here forever and will not be turned off. Next time you pass someone lying in the street, remember the face .. he or she may be the next Al Gosling.
“They don’t give a crap how they get rich. Paying their fair share into society through taxation, contributions and their own time is not high on their radar. What is the $64 million pay cheque really for? They are hallow worth built on the idolised golden statues that they pray to. In the end, the end of one’s life, the question is; “What have you done in this world that really mattered?” Very insightful and thought-provoking.
Take some time to reflect and consider the question. Do you want to be remembered for your monetary value, or for the hand you stretched forth? Do you want your loved ones to be proud of your accomplishments and contributions to society, and have your children and grandchildren walk in the shadow of that pride? Do you want people to know and remember you as a loving and kindly human being that walked this Earth with a purpose toward the greater good of humanity?