If you can’t help me, just ignore me.
The sentence came at the tail end of a short conversation I had with a man at a bank on West Street in Corner Brook Sunday evening.
He preceded those words with an explanation about why he was hanging around outside with his hands in the pockets of his blue jeans and had a sullen look in his eyes.
The federal government was docking him an extra amount on his disability cheque, he said, forcing the man with snow white hair and a matching mustache to ask for money for food and footwear that weren’t shoes.
I couldn’t help him. The budget I’m on doesn’t allow for much wiggle room. The short encounter stuck with me though.
Long after it happened, I found my mind drifting to that moment. I wondered if I had an old pair of boots lying around that I could give him. Could I have helped that man somehow? I felt guilty about it.
Christmas is a time of reflection. It is a time to think back on the year that was and count your blessings for what you have.
It is a time for family. If you live away from home, it is a time for reunion. Everyone gathers and shares stories, gives presents and eats plenty of food.
All great things.
As long as you’ve got that, your situation cannot be that bad. There are only certain things you need in life and Christmas brings them all together. But, what if those things don’t exist for you?
What if you’re reduced to asking people for money outside of a financial institution just two weeks before Christmas Day?
I don’t relate homelessness to Corner Brook. I’m sure it exists. No, I know it exists.
Maybe it is just because I don’t have any regular dealings with people who are in that situation that causes the rift between what I relate to this city and what I don’t.
Now, I don’t know if this man was homeless. I don’t even know if he was legitimate in his need for money.
What I do know is that helping others should be paramount at this time of year. That notion is part of what drives my guilt over the situation.
I keep moving back to the "ignore me" part. He's saying if you can’t spare any change, just think of him as an inconvenience. Think of him as something that is below your attention.
That isn’t right.
As children, we’re taught to treat everyone with respect. We’re taught that no one man is above the rest.
We’re taught to help the weakest among us.
Somewhere along the way, we lost that.
We’ve come to think a homeless person is either too stupid or too lazy to have a home.
However, we don’t know anything about them.
We get caught up in our own lives, especially at Christmas time.
We want to buy the perfect gifts and give our loved ones exactly what they wanted.
Sometimes, we get caught up so much in ourselves that we forget there are people who some extra help at this time of year.
We forget there are people struggling with the elements, wearing tattered clothes and relying on soup kitchens for their next meal.
Christmas is a time for compassion and it's time we start practising it.
Sorry sir, I couldn’t ignore you.
And, I’m going to be a better person because of it.
Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.firstname.lastname@example.org.