Well, after a really long hiatus…hello again and Happy New Year! A couple of months ago I started a brand new job with The Mustard Seed, a non-profit organization based in Edmonton’s inner city. I’m not overstating when I say that every day I feel incredibly fortunate to work here, alongside people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness, and people who are committed to meeting the needs and developing the gifts of our community members. (And, as I am learning, the line between the two is beautifully permeable.) And, just like in any community, making friends takes time. This is the story of how I met my first friend.
One morning early in December I was alone in Daybreak House and there was a rap on the front door. I didn’t hesitate to open it, although as I reached to unbolt the lock I wondered who would be standing in front of me. It turns out it was an older, ruddy-faced, semi-toothless, bright-eyed man, clearly more surprised to see me than I was to meet him. “Oh! Umm…who are…I’m looking for…is J here?” He was looking for information about the Family Gift Center. I tried to describe where it was and then gave up. “Come in and I’ll get the address for you,” I offered. I found my phone and we chatted for about a minute. “You can buy for as many kids as you want, as long as you have ID for them,“ I explained. “It’s really nice for people who are guardians.” He nodded. “I know all about that…Just wait, I have to check on my bike.” I poked my head out and looked down the stairs to see a narrow-tired, slightly rusty ten-speed (or of that sort) – with the fresh snow and -17 degree temperatures this wasn’t going to be an easy commute. “Does J ever talk about me? Tell him that you met Ninja this morning and see what he says.” He gestured toward the used needle resting on the porch railing, a remnant of last night’s neighbourhood activity. “They have a special way of getting rid of those – I’ve seen it – they use a big set of tongs and then drop it into a yellow bucket. I never did that stuff…I was too busy doing sports.” We talked for quite a few minutes, he bundled in a toque and warm jacket, watching over his bike and me standing in the doorway, the warmth of the house behind me offering some respite from the bitter wind. Neither of us was in a hurry, it seemed. He grew up in the northeast, in Montrose, and started playing football and soccer but then found his groove in martial arts. “It teaches you not to show your opponents your weakness.” One time a guy who he had bested turned around and broke a chair over his back. “And your back was ok?” I asked. He beamed. “Oh yeah.” “Sometimes J will be walking with some school kids and he’ll say “Hi Ninja!” and I can see the kids are scared of me because I’m so big.” He feigned a cowering pose. “And I say to them, ‘you don’t have to be scared, it’s okay’.” Sometimes adults need to be reassured of that too, I thought. And then, as often happens, a bit of a pause in the conversation signaled that it was time to get going. “Good to meet you! Say hi to J! See you around!”… “Good luck at the Family Gift Center – I hope you find some great stuff!” My first neighbourhood friend.
Also…thank you to Joyce Rees and Jessica DiSabatino, whose podcast, Down to Earth, was the serendipitous nudge that I needed to get writing again. Check it out! I think you’ll love it. http://www.downtoearthpodcast.com/