Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Practising What We Preach

In my effort to become better acquainted with many of the classic movies that I missed or simply don't remember I recently watched Guess Who's Coming To Dinner starring Sidney Portier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In it, Spencer Tracy plays an upper-class liberal publisher who has raised his daughter to be 'colour-blind'. This comes back to haunt him when she falls desperately in love with a black man (Sydney Poitier) in a time when interracial marriage is still taboo. We watch as Spencer Tracy's character struggles to align his heart with what he preaches and what is happening in his own home.

It was, of course, a fabulous film and I identified with each of the characters: the smitten young woman, the mother who wants her daughter to be happy, but most of all, the parent whose child reminds us that we need to practise what we preach.

For me, recently, the lesson I preached that has come back to haunt me is how we treat homeless people. I taught my daughters that these are not people to be scorned, despised or feared. We have no idea of the circumstances that brought them to this place, and it could just as easily be us. They deserve our compassion and we need to be part of the effort to help them lead productive lives.

That said, a few years ago, my daughter, Cara, began taking dance classes at a studio downtown. She is often there until late at night, and I worried for her safety as she returned to her car which was parked in a dark lot in a back alley. On one of her first nights there she was struggling with the pay-parking meter. A homeless man approached her and showed her how it worked. She thanked him, and he promised to watch her car for her while she was dancing. Sure enough, when she returned to her car hours later, he was still there, keeping watch. She thanked him, a little unnerved, not sure what he was expecting in return, got into her car, and drove away.

The next night, the same man was there, and once again he offered to keep watch over her car. He introduced himself as Johnny. This went on week after week, and Cara learned she had nothing to fear from Johnny. He'd simply adopted this car lot as his own terrain, and he protected the cars parked there from car thieves. Cara began giving him loonies, and bringing him snacks. He was grateful for any little thing she gave him, but never actually asked for compensation. One time she gifted him with an umbrella as so many nights he patrolled the lot in the pouring rain. He was overjoyed with the gift. In the two years Cara has parked in that lot, 4-5 times a week, nothing has ever happened to her car. On the other hand, parked in safer neighbourhoods, like on our own street, at the local Superstore, and outside Cactus Club where she works, her car has been vandalized, trashed and backed into. Johnny really is doing a wonderful service for her.

At first I was skeptical of Johnny and worried that he might harm Cara but I grew to be grateful to him, even though we've never met. In this way I learned to practise what I preached

Last night Cara and her sister Dani were working at a charity event. At the end of the evening there was all kinds of food left over. They are both used to seeing food wasted as they each work in the restaurant business, but this time they decided to do something about it. They wrapped up a bunch of sandwiches and desserts and drove downtown to Johnny's parking lot. At first they couldn't find him so they distributed the food to other homeless people, but eventually Johnny showed up and to show his appreciation, he danced a dance of joy at their gift of food, knowing full well that dancing is Cara's passion. I was so proud of my daughters and their thoughtfulness. On the one hand I'd rather they stayed away from dark alleys and the people who lurk there, and yet I'm glad that they show compassion and generosity when it's safe to do so.

Cara may be leaving home soon to work as a dancer on a cruise ship. She will meet many many kinds of people on her travels. Not all of them will be the gentle souls that Johnny turned out to be, but I will pray that her heart remains open and compassionate while her brain remains alert to possible danger and trickery.

In rereading this post, I realize that Johnny, though homeless, is leading a productive life. Another lesson learned.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Blue Box Mystery

I'm a radio talk-show junkie, but only once have I come close to actually phoning in to a program. On that occassion my very favourite talk-show host was complaining about the people who were driving down her street on garbage/recycling day and rummaging through her blue box to take the recyclables that could be returned for the deposit money. She felt it was some kind of impingement on her privacy or maybe - though I don't quite remember - she was bothered by the noise of the rummaging.

I was really bugged by this. First of all, I can't understand why anyone would put bottles and cans that can be returned for a deposit into the blue box in the first place. Granted, I have the space, but I always save these things for those kids who are doing bottle-drives and who come around to collect them. And besides, I think the 'rummagers' are industrious, hard-working people. They must really need the money so why would those who are recycling their returnables be bothered by this?

Lately I've noticed there are fewer and fewer bottle-drives being organized (in my neighbourhood anyway) so I tend to acquire a lot of 'returnables'. I've begun taking beer cans and wine bottles back to the liquor store when I am going there anyway and I give the deposit money to whatever charity is outide looking for donations. It's a win-win situations. I am, however, too lazy to haul back the juice/soft drink containers which collect as fast as the dust bunnies in this house yet I still won't put them in the blue box or, even worse, the garbage. Someone wants/needs the money that they can get by returning them. I decided to try a small experiment. A few months ago, on recycling day, I put a small, clear plastic bag with cans and bottles beside my blue box in hopes that one of the 'rummagers' would pass by and collect them before the recycling truck did. I hoped that because they weren't in the blue box, the truck wouldn't take them if they were still there.

It worked. At some point before the recycling truck arrived, I noted that the bag had disappeared.

For quite a few weeks now I've left a bag of returnable items next to my blue box. Each week they've disappeared before the truck arrives. Last week I got confused and put my garbage/recyclables out on the wrong day. The bag of returnables STILL disappeared! Hmmm. I began wondering if it was one of my neighbours that was taking them, but that would surprise me. Tonight I took the blue box out accompanied by a very large bag of returnables. I went back into the house to collect up the newspapers and by the time I made it back to the curb, the bag of returnables was already gone! 99% of me finds huge joy in this. The system is working. Those people who need the returnables are actually finding them before the recycling truck hauls them away. But tonight, 1% of me feels a little creeped out. Who is watching my curb so closely??