Most days when I arrive at work I see group of people – mostly men – lined up in front of the office of the Public Trustee and Guardian waiting for the doors to open so they can get inside and see their case worker or get access to their money.
These are some of society’s most marginal people – so destitute or sick or mentally ill the government decides they are incapable of managing aspects of their lives and does it for them.
They are individuals in need of help. But the plain truth is that when you round them up into a posse and put them in front of an office building most people cross the street to avoid them.
It’s not a polite thing to say – but it’s true. Some shout and rant. Some are drug affected. Some are aggressive. Some are sleepy. Some are quirky. Some are very sad. I see one old man often, and occasionally our eyes meet as we pass and his sad, sad eyes make me want to cry.
I ask myself all the time…what are these people’s stories? What brought them here? Do they have loved ones? I often wonder what they were like as children. Do they go through each day without a kind word or a loving touch?
But the problem is, I ask myself these questions – not them. Like many other people, I am caught between a desire to reach out and a desire to not be dragged into their strange and isolated world.
It’s true their unpredictability can be frightening. What if one of them hits me? Or shouts at me? What if – as happened to a friend of mine – one throws a cup of urine at me, or spits, of does something equally awful? Or what if, in making contact, I get drawn in and can’t break away and get back to my own comfortable world?
I ask these questions. But one woman did not.
Today, I read about a 70-year-old woman in British Colombia who reached out to hold the hand of an agitated, angry stranger on a train. She held his hand for 20 minutes as he quieted down and sat on the floor beside her.
And I was moved by her bravery and her humanity.
Bravery, because it’s hard for us to break out of our comfortable lives to help someone whose life seems out of control. And humanity, for recognising that we are all just people and all want love.
The woman’s gesture was captured in a photo taken by a man on the train, Ehab Taha, who at first did not want to intrude on their privacy but then wanted others to see the enormity of one person’s act of grace.
Ehab said he was riding the SkyTrain from Vancouver to his home when a man began acting erratically, swearing and shouting aggressively.
He wrote on Facebook: “While everyone was scared, this one seventy year old woman reached out her hand, tightly gripping his hand until he calmed down, sat down silently, with eventual tears in his eyes.
“I spoke to the woman after this incident and she simply said, “I’m a mother and he needed someone to touch.” And she started to cry.'”
Ehab said the man sat in silence for 20 minutes then got off the train saying ‘Thanks, grandma’ to the woman as he left.
These sort of acts certainly happen every day in the world. People are kind and good. It’s just nice to be reminded.
And I hope that feeling touched by the photos is not the end of it for those who saw the photo. Or for me. I hope, as Ehab later told Today: ‘It’s incredible to see the impact a simple human touch can have on someone. Instead of fearing people, we should reach out and help them.’