Friday’s Essay – What I Wrote as I Watched a Young Man Sleep on the Sidewalk in Toronto

Having a Coffee in TorontoIn May 2011 I found myself in Toronto – which is pretty much my favourite place in the world – for various reasons.  On the morning of Friday, May 20 I had coffee at the Starbucks at Queen Street West, Bay and Yonge Streets.  This is what I wrote:

I am at a Starbucks on Queen St. W between Bay and Yonge – staring up at the Old City Hall clock tower is quite impressive.  The place is, of course, bustling – taxis, streetcars, bicycles, pedestrians, cars and trucks and one young man sleeping on the sidewalk.  Some people look at him, others don’t – no one harasses him. He seems at peace and yet, his life must be incredibly difficult.  He appears the one calm, peaceful presence in this city.  At this corner where trucks and taxis honk and drivers holler, ‘Fuck You!’ out the window.  I could sit and watch this young man sleep all day, imagining him calm and peaceful.  At the same time it makes me, if not sad, then melancholy to think of all the things that have happened to him, may have happened to him, to bring him to sleep at the corner of Queen St. W and Bay in Toronto.  I feel connected to this young man and his quiet presence in a way that I do not, cannot, be connected to some people I actually know.  I have love and compassion for this young man in a way I do not, cannot, have love and compassion for some people I actually know.  I will get up and walk past him.  He’ll never know I watched him sleep.  He’ll never know he was loved for only a brief moment.  It may make no difference in his life.  But he has made a difference in mine.  Perhaps, he has made a difference to some of the others who have seen him and passed him this morning.

Even a year later I still think of that young man sometimes and what his life must have been like then and if anything has changed for him in a year.  I think we all need someone like that in our lives.  Someone who takes us out of our regular stuff and makes us think about different, deeper stuff.