One sunny afternoon I was doing outreach, when I came across a man I’d never seen before. He was an older man, with a long grey beard, and he was sporting an old baseball cap. He was sitting on the sidewalk with a cup at his feet, smiling at everyone who passed by.
I introduced myself and he started talking to me as if we’d known each other for years! He told me that he had been in an accident 15 years ago. He had been working on a farm and had been kicked in the chest by a cow. The force of the kick was so strong that it had broken his neck. Tom was in a coma for several weeks and the doctors thought he would never walk again.
The recovery process was long and tedious but eventually Tom was able to regain function in his legs. But the accident left him with chronic pain that is so severe that despite his university education, he is unable to find a job he can manage with the pain. Tom now lives off of his old age pension. After paying rent for a small room in a rooming house, he is left with about $100 each month to spend on food and other necessities. He pan handles during the day, to try to make ends meet.
“I hate doing this – asking for money. There’s no dignity in it.” He told me.
He said that earlier that day two women had walked by. One pointed at him and said to the other “Look there’s a bum!”
Tom told me “I just wanted to say to her ‘you put me here’! You put me in this category! You said I was unemployable!”
Despite this frustration, Tom seems to have a permanent smile on his face. You know the kind? When people aren’t smiling but somehow their eyes are smiling? Tom says that being sad and angry won’t help the pain go away and it won’t make anything better. “And there are people like you, who sit down and talk with me. Who treat me like a person, not some bump on the wall.”
What a privilege it is to spend time with Tom. It makes me sad for all of the people who walk by and just see a bump on the wall, and miss the amazing person sitting in front of them.