There I was, in dreamland, half-asleep,
leaning on my cart, when this phantom drifted
towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry.”
I woke up from my dream, looked at the ghost,
tall, skeletal, thin, cavernous eyes, cheekbones
protruding, gaps in the teeth, grey face drawn.
“Sorry!” My reply was automatic. I looked
at him again. “I only carry plastic.” The excuse
limped heavily across the air between us.
I saw something in his eyes, I knew not what.
As I walked away, I added one hundred pound
of muscle to his frame. He had played hard.
I remembered him holding up the Maritime Cup.
But I couldn’t remember his name. I pushed
my cart all over the store searching for him.
At the ATM I withdrew cash I could give him.
I would tell him he had dropped it. I could invite
him to the snack bar, buy him a meal and more.
I could tell him to buy what he needed and meet
me at the check out. I could add his purchases
to my bill. I looked everywhere. Nor sight, nor sign.
One opportunity. That’s all we get. Miss it, blow
the match. Grasp it, hold it tight, we’re champions.
Comment: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Or my sister’s?” Here and now we are living with realities that we have rarely faced before. Not everyone has kept their jobs. Some are indeed living out on the streets, helpless, homeless, panhandling, hoping. Right now they are lucky. Sunny, warm, hot … though sometimes too hot. At least it isn’t 40 below and freezing their butts off. So what do we do? Turn a blind eye? Say we are sorry? Suddenly recognize an old friend, turn quickly away before he recognizes us, and burn ever afterwards with shame?
I cannot answer for you. I can only answer for myself. I am ashamed of my slick answers, my throwaway negatives, my disguised barbs. “Go get a job.” There are no jobs, or very few anyway, Covid-19 has seen to that. “Do something useful, can’t you?” There’s very little they can do, and seemingly there’s very little can be done for them. “Go home!” They have no homes to go to.
So what are the alternatives? Love? Charity? Comprehension? Embracing their situation? Understanding? How can we understand, you and I, who sit before the computer screen, the cell phone, or the I Pad, scanning this in comfort? Think about it: there, out into the street, but for some good luck, and the grace of God, go you and I. Think about it. Now do you understand?