Last Fall I wrote this post in tribute to a man I barely knew. Since Winter set in he has been absent from the park and I haven't seen him in the downtown area in a very long time. Last Saturday I found an obituary in our local Oshawa This Week paper. Mike has passed on to a peaceful rest. He had been staying at an Extendicare facility in our region due to illness. In the end he got what help that could be given and I truly hope he is at peace now.
Peacefully On Saturday January 28, 2012 at Extendicare Oshawa at the age of 57.
Mike, beloved son of Marjorie Webb and the late David Webb. Dear brother of Marilyn and her husband Jack Thomsen, Bob Webb and his wife Tanya, Dorothy Corvec and Beverly Webb.
Father of the late Patricia and Cynthia Webb. Uncle to 14 nieces and nephews. Partner of June O’Brien.
Very special thanks to the staff and volunteers at the YWCA and Extendicare Long Term Care Centre for the wonderful and loving care given to Mike over the years. Cremation with burial in New Brunswick.
To Place online condolences please visit armstrongfuneralhome.net.
Original Post date September 23, 2011
What has been keeping me awake this week? There is a man living in the underpass tunnel on the bike path near my building. He isn't new to this city, but has migrated East. For eight years I went to work at a Charitable Organization in my local Downtown area. And he was a daily fixture in the homeless group that gathered in pairs or singly under the awnings of nearby foreclosed buildings. Mike appears to be mute, either by choice or by physicality, and tends to be a loner. He wears two heavy trench coats, no matter what the temperature, could be in his mid-thirties, walks with a pronounced limp and bent back. For the last three months Mike has been near the bike path underpass. I hadn't seen him in almost two years, well, since leaving that job. Everyday I walk to get a coffee and some exercise. Sometimes he is sitting on the public bench with face up-turned to the Sun and eyes closed, other times walking the path.
He has a beat up shopping cart that goes EVERYWHERE. It's loaded with miscellaneous plastic bags, he has food, clothing, books, and bedding. His cart is carefully covered with his green sleeping bag which I have seen him wash in the creek near the bike path. Never in ten years have I seen him ask for money, never have I seen anyone stop to talk to him. He doesn't hold a cardboard sign with pleas for help. Everyday I walk, I wonder if Mike will be there. And yes, I pray for him.
I have a philanthropic nature, but also have a strong sense of personal space (my own and others) and don't generally approach strangers. My husband also worked in the Downtown Business Area for 12 years, and befriended a few of the homeless crew. I met him for lunch one day, and we passed an older man wearing slippers for shoes. We stopped to talk to him, I asked if I could buy him some shoes. He said; "Why?" I said; "Because you're walking in slippers." He said; "So! If I wanted shoes I'd get some." Lesson learned...Never assume that homeless people are helpless, uneducated, mentally ill, or dangerous. We have chatted with other homeless friends who choose the streets because their home life was more dangerous or unacceptable. Eventually street living just became the only way of life they new. Like "Ray". He has been in and out of group homes in Durham Region, shelters in Toronto, Bachelor Flats and rooming with friends. Ray always ends up back on the streets, he said he just doesn't want to be bound by landlords or Supervisors. He'd rather choose when he wants to go to bed, eat his meals, and read a book.
The older I get, the less bold I become. I'm not wreckless. I know my hard core Evangelical friends would scorn me for not living fear-free. There are acquaintances' that have no problem shouting God's love from the roof tops. Just being honest here, I have never been able to be that bold. There are many times that I betray my own genuine desire to help people and show kindness. I am so afraid of doing the wrong thing that I tend to do nothing. On Wednesday's morning walk it occurred to me. Why has Mike moved this far East? It's a good 30 minute walk from his previous hang out. I saw him nearly everyday for eight years when I went to work. Now I see him nearly everyday on my walk. I have no issue with him being there. He is not loud, he doesn't leave trash around like the people that pass through on their way down the bike path. If anything I worry about his safety.
So these are the questions that have kept me awake this week. Should I bring him a sandwich? A coffee? A Gift card for groceries? The best way to find out would be to ask, but how to get around the mutism?Yesterday when I went for my walk, Mike wasn't on his bench. I wondered where he was and remembered that it had rained quite hard the night before. On my round trip heading home, I used the sidewalk on the overpass. I stopped to look over and saw Mike was soaking up the sun with a smile on his face. He may not need me to do anything but leave him alone.
Image Credits: Ontario Bike Path