On being … insights from a stranger

By Ingrid Sapona

Because of the pandemic, I’ve taken to daily walks to try to maintain cardio fitness. I’ve found a few different routes I like, but on weekday mornings I tend to do the same route – a nice mix of flat and hills. I go at pretty much the same time every morning and so there’s a handful of folks I see regularly enough that we greet each other.

That particular route takes me through a streetcar underpass (kind of a tunnel) and past a streetcar stop called Humber Loop. This stop is a juncture for a few different lines and a bus route. Unlike most streetcar stops, Humber Loop has a brick building that serves mainly as a rest stop/service stop for streetcar drivers. On one end of the building, however, is a glass enclosed waiting area for folks to wait out of the cold or rain. There are lights and a few very uncomfortable benches, but that’s it.

Because I walk very early, I’ve noticed some homeless people sleeping on the hard, cold benches. The building is not heated, nor are there any public washrooms – it’s strictly shelter from the elements. It always makes me sad to see them, but I figure at least it’s better than them being outside.

One morning last week, as I was passing through the Loop, I noticed a senior ambling up the hill a bit ahead of me. She was going slowly and I knew I’d end up passing her, but I hesitated a bit because I figured she probably didn’t expect to hear anyone behind her at that hour. When I caught up to her, I gave her a wide birth – not just to social distance, but so as not to frighten her. As I passed, I made sure to say good morning, so she knew I was friendly.

When she looked up, I saw she had on a face mask. She was wearing a black raincoat and I noticed a lapel pin that looked like a cross and she was holding rosary beads. When she returned my greeting, I noticed she had a charming, old-world accent that sounded Italian. When I apologized for possibly startling her, she assured me I hadn’t. She then pulled down her mask, making it clear she wanted to have a bit of a conversation.

She said she was just thinking about those poor men – pointing in the direction of the streetcar building. I said yes, it’s sad to see them. I told her that I’ve noticed three or four men there every morning. She shook her head. I said that the only good thing about the whole situation is that at least they’re not out in the cold and rain. But, I added, I know it’s not heated and when winter comes, it must be awful. She agreed but added, “Never mind the cold… that’s not the worst”

I quickly interjected, “Oh I know, where do they get food?” “It’s not just that,” she added again. Pointing to the facemask pulled down under her chin, she said, “We feel safer because of this, but what about them? Because of the virus, there aren’t even places for them to clean themselves now!” I nodded in agreement, as these are all things I’d thought about all these mornings.

Then, looking more distraught, she said, “But worst of all… they have no LOVE. There’s no one to touch them, to love them. Everyone needs love. And who loves them?” I was dumbstruck by her insight and all I could do was nod in sad agreement.

When I composed myself a bit, I confessed to her that I’d never thought of that aspect of homelessness. Though I’ve often thought about – and donated to charities that provide – food and shelter for people living on the street, I never thought about the fact that they have no one to love them. After a few minutes of silent, shared anguish, we began walking together up the little hill. When we got to the top, we nodded at each other and headed off in different directions.

The rest of that morning’s walk I could think of nothing but the conversation I had with that stranger – a woman I’ve never seen before, or since. Her innocent lament helped me realize how focused I’ve always been on people’s physical needs. Though I do believe it’s important to ease hunger – because it impacts body and mind – I’ve disregarded the most crucial needs of all – the need for love and a sense of belonging.

I wish I could end this column by telling you I’ve done something to help fill those kinds of needs for any of the homeless people I see in the morning. But I haven’t come up with any concrete way of doing that. Nonetheless, I’ve thought about that stranger’s comment so many times in the past 10 days, I felt the need to write about it.

Thanksgiving is around the corner here in Canada. I know many of us have been thinking about the fact that Thanksgiving will be very different this year because of Covid-19. But, for many homeless people, I’ll bet it won’t feel much different from any other day. My hope is that those of us in a position to ease the hunger and physical harshness the homeless face – on Thanksgiving and every other day – will do so. But, regardless of any monetary support you may be able to provide to help the homeless, my hope is that this column prompts you to also recognize the void of love and loneliness homeless people face every day and that you try to help fill that void.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... the best office

On being … the best office

By Ingrid Sapona

A friend of mine moved recently and she offered me her computer cabinet (a re-purposed Ikea closet). For about 20 years I had a purpose-built computer armoire. I originally bought it when I lived in an apartment and my dining room was also my office. I loved it and it came with me when I moved into my condo years ago. Here in the condo I have a den that I use as my office.

I loved the armoire but about eight years ago I had to give it up when I bought a monitor that was too big for it. At that point, I had to re-configure my small-ish den. When my friend offered me her computer cabinet, I had to decide whether I once again was up for re-configuring the den. After measuring to make sure her cabinet would actually fit, I decided that yes, I did want it because I like the idea of hiding away the computer so that the den looks like a den.

To get the cabinet here, I needed to rent a cargo van, borrow a furniture dolly from a neighbor, and arrange for a friend to help me with the move. The night before the move I did my best to get the room ready. That meant emptying a filing cabinet that would need to be moved over and disassembling my desk. It wasn’t until I started to actually move the desk out that I realized I needed to move a bookshelf and couch out of the way too. Luckily the couch is relatively light and once I took off all the cushions, I could stand it on one end!

The next day we picked up the cargo van and headed to get the cabinet. I texted my friends when we got there and she asked me if I could send my friend up to help them move it. So, he went up and I waited on the street with the van. It seemed to take a long time – but I figured it just felt that way, as I was nervous because the parking enforcement guy seemed to be circling and I was in a no parking zone. Eventually my friend returned and said he’d stay with the van and that I had better go “look at it”. When I asked why, he said it broke when they tried to move it, but he thought it would be fixable with a bracket or… To be honest, I stopped hearing him after “it broke”.

When I got to their condo, my friend’s husband had already disassembled 2/3 of it. They explained what happen and how it could be fixed. I ended up not taking the cabinet. I know they felt awful about my having rented a cargo van, but I didn’t mind, as it was worth a try. The way I figured it, the reason I wanted the cabinet was to make the den feel less office-like. But so many screw holes were blown out, while I might have been able to fix it and make it usable, I doubted it would ever look decent – and the whole point was to make the office more den-like.

After returning the van my friend helped me move the filing cabinet and desk back to where they originally were. Then he left me to set up my computer and return the files to the cabinet. As I was doing this, I realized that my office set up is quite comfortable. The desk is spacious, the filing cabinet is handy, and the couch is a nice place to sit if I’ve got a lot of reading or thinking to do on a project. As well, I’ve managed to store my office supplies pretty neatly, and the lighting I installed when I first moved in is great.

And yet, for years I’ve been obsessing about how to make the den “better”. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent looking at Murphy beds on-line, wondering how one might fit and whether I should get one so that it’s more like a den than an office when someone visits. And I’ve considered whether to put a door on it to make it more of a private room for when I have company.

Once my computer was up and running and I sat down to do some work, I realized why I’ve been ambivalent about the den all these years. It’s because I wanted the space to be something it’s not – and never will be. It won’t be a spacious, second bedroom or a roomy t.v. room. Though I’ve never had a problem accepting that my Toyota will never be a Tesla, or that my galley kitchen will never be a gourmet chef’s dream, I’ve accepted them for what they are and I’ve been fine with them. Why aren’t I able to accept the limitations of the den, I wondered? Once I saw it like that, I realized the route to greater contentment was acceptance.

So, though some might have chalked up the computer cabinet fiasco as a waste of time, it wasn’t. It helped me realize the problem with the den wasn’t the den – it was me. There’s nothing wrong with the den – it’s perfect as my office and that’s really all I need it to be.  

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona