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Invisible people…

March 21, 2015

I watched him as he kept nodding off. His head slowly drifting lower, jerking back up, eyes re-opening on some invisible landscape, shuttering again, drifting away, again…

We’re on the #7 bus at South and South Park. Heading north.

He’s an Aboriginal man. In his mid-sixties. Fit, but tired. He sits by himself across from the back door. His strong hands grasp a snow shovel that otherwise leans against the inside of his left thigh.

It’s 10:30 in the evening and he is on is way home. And he is tired.

His eyes keep drooping; his head gives a small start every time he begins to nod off.

By the look of his wet boots and sweat-stained cap he has probably been shoveling snow since about 7 this morning.

I look out at the mountain of snow that fell on us this week and think how anyone with a back and a shovel could find work this week.

The patch on the man’s baseball cap is green, with a small turtle on it – the turtle looking out at the world – and the inscription says “we are all treaty people”.

His woolen pants have been mended in three places – but still maintains a crease. He wears the type of coat now fashionable with the hipster bearded lumbersexuals – but it’s a coat almost as old as me – and if you told this man what a “lumbersexual” was, it would only make him sad.

He reminds me of my grandfather. A man who understood a hard day’s work and the value of well-cared-for work clothes.

Robert Pirzig talked about this kind of man in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The men who fix things properly, do the job that is expected of them, take genuine pride in their work and their small accomplishments.

But I don’t know this man from Adam – so who am I to project my grandfather fantasies on him.

He’s old enough to have gone to residential school. So what the fuck do I know.

All I can see – and really know – is that he is a man in his sixties who has worked a physically exhausting day moving a mountain of snow from here to there in the rich part of town, and now he is headed north, to the less-rich part of town, on his way home.

~~~~~~~~~~

A couple of days ago I was further down in the south end of town, south of Inglis Street, walking through that part of Halifax where the incomes jump at least $200,000 – and then further still to families who have millions – on my way to the Point Pleasant Park, when this old beat-up half-ton Chevy truck stops and begins to back into a driveway. I overhear neighbours of the house, out walking their dog just ahead of me, comment on how it looked “like a good load of hardwood”. I watch the man and the woman ahead of me smile at each other over the thought of a warm fire burning in the hearth of their HomeSense House, and the woman clutches at the man’s arm and pulls him tighter to her, and they continue on with their happy walk.

I look at the man driving the truck – bringing his wares to one of the wealthiest neighbourhood in the Maritimes – I look at the poor state of the truck – and I realize that here is a man that economically speaking, is just barely hanging on.

You know the type of man. You especially know him if you grew up rural.

He looks like he’s a bit of a boozer – and a smoker – there’s probably been more than a little violence in his childhood – he may, or may not want to be a good dad, but he has no real idea what that really means.

I look at the wood in the back of his truck and instantly all the years of my youth stretch out before me – and the 25 cord of wood we would cut and split and pile every summer – in order to heat our farmhouse through every winter that followed.

And then I thought of the 200 other summer cord of wood we would cut and split and sell to rich cottagers and town lawyers and doctors for their fireplaces and ornamental wood stoves. I thought of the sweat and the back ache and the smell of wood shavings from the chainsaw.

“That’s nice wood,” I say to him as he gets out of his truck.

“It’s a living,” he says back to me indifferently, walking to the back of the truck.

 

 

(For those of you who think most homeless youth are just lazy, at least 80% of the boys at our shelter this week have had full-time work shoveling snow 12 hours a day.)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 21, 2015 6:55 pm

    Thank you for writing this, the people you talk about are humbling.

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