A small story to be added to my "Tales of Downtown" series.
The Husband and I have been doing our very best to get some badly needed fresh air on a daily basis during these cloistered times. We live in a loft apartment that doesn't have a balcony. The only outdoor space in our building is a fabulous rooftop patio that was, until very recently, closed due to the pandemic as was all common space in our condo. As such, taking a walk around the neighbourhood or down to the lake has been important in ways that I simply cannot describe to those of you fortunate enough to have backyards or patios. I am not complaining, just merely stating a fact.
We often combine our walks with other small errands that can be accomplished at the tail end of the sojourn. We might run into the local fruit market for a container of blueberries or the toy store for a new jigsaw puzzle. We only purchase that which we can carry between the two of us and without using a cart. Today, we stopped at Shopper's Drug Mart for a few essentials. (Read: chocolate and Diet Coke)
As we were returning from the store, we encountered one of the regular street people who reside in our neighbourhood. This fellow is a pleasant enough guy, very polite, and usually is just pan-handling for a few coins in order to get his breakfast or a coffee. One of the forgotten side-effects of this weird time in which we are living is that very few people are carrying cash with them any more. Nobody wants to have contact with money if they can avoid it and as such, people like my buddy on the street are really suffering. You can't very well swipe him your phone or credit card. The Husband remarked recently that he hasn't carried cash in his pocket since March and hasn't been to a bank machine since we returned from the Southern Home. Everything is touchless and non-contact right now. More often than not, I don't have anything to give him because the only things I carry these days are a mask and my phone. Today, he caught us coming home from Shoppers so when he asked for something to eat, I reached into the bag and pulled out a chocolate bar. Here is our exchange verbatim as The Husband is my witness.
Man: Can I trouble you for a few coins so that I can get something to eat?
Me: I'm sorry but I don't have any money but wait....(this is me rummaging through the Shoppers bag and pulling out a bar of Cadbury dark chocolate.)
Me: Here you go.
Man: Oh...a chocolate bar. Oh...it's dark. Don't you have milk chocolate?
Me: (Apologizing) I'm sorry. It's all that I have. Next time, I'll remember that you like milk chocolate.
Man: Ok. If it's all you have, thank you.
We laughed a bit about the discerning palate of our friend but in all seriousness, this is a real problem in cities with a homeless issue. As we move into a solely cashless society, how will we be able to care for our most vulnerable if we don't take steps to physically put ourselves out for them? Sending a few coins their way will no longer be the "very least we can do". It is fast becoming a non-option. I am going to start carrying around granola bars and juice boxes so that a few hungry people can have the dignity of a small meal because this new cashless world is excluding them. Maybe, I'll take him into Timmie's next time for a doughnut and coffee? But it does remove a certain amount of dignity from him in that he can't buy it for himself.
Every day, I hear my own complaints about isolation or boredom. Every day, I hear others describe the difficulties they have faced during this very weird time. Every single one of them is valid. Every person's pain is real. We are all going through something and all of it matters. Today, I saw somebody else's suffering and it was up close and personal. I'll try to remember that the next time I'm lamenting my situation.