My wife Gimalle is somewhat fanatical about recycling which means that every week when we do our grocery shopping, we drop off the collection of recyclable items we have collected.
We usually visit the same recycling spot which is conveniently located right behind the supermarket we regularly frequent. This site is somewhat of a gathering ground for several of the local street people, all of whom are extremely polite, friendly and helpful in offering to assist us with offloading our recycling.
In preparation for a visit to the recycling location we always separate beverage containers as these folks can exchange them for cash at the local bottle depots.
As Gimalle is continually on a de-cluttering spree we often have household items or clothing which we happily donate to these same folks.
I have come to recognize several of these people and we usually engage in a brief conversation while I am putting my recycling into the various bins.
There is one man there whose repeated behavior has often caught my attention. His name is Doug and he stands out from all the others.
Several months of brief interactions with Doug have enabled me to patch together a rather spotty understanding of his life.
He has lived on the streets for more than 17 years. I don’t know the details of his descent into street life but I do know that both drugs and alcohol played a factor in landing him on the streets and keeping them there.
He has, sadly, come to believe that his addictions are irreversible and has, consequently, spurned all offers of assistance and rehabilitation.
Doug does not believe in panhandling and survives by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood and by working extremely hard at his day job of bottle-picking.
By his own admission Doug spends the majority of his meager earnings on drugs and alcohol and, “if there’s anything left after that I might buy a sandwich.”
His nights are spent at the various shelters around the city and the daylight hours are committed to roaming the streets, head down, looking for bottles or anything else of value.
Sadly, Doug is one of an estimated 3,000 people who make the streets of Calgary their home and are kept there by a vicious cycle of poverty and addiction.
But Doug is not unhappy with his lot in life. In fact, he has a mission.
His mission is to make sure that all his friends have what they need to survive.
Each time I have given Doug empty bottles or other items he has immediately taken them over to his friends and given them away to those “who need them more than I do.”
On a few occasions I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some of Doug’s friends and, without exception, they all speak of his generosity.
They’ve told of Doug taking the last few pennies of change out of his pocket and giving it to a friend to buy a sandwich even though doing so meant Doug would not eat that day.
They spoke me of him taking off his jacket on a cold winter day and giving it to someone whose jacket had been stolen.
They talked of Doug taking his entire stash of bottles – the result of an full day of hard work – and giving it to a newly arrived street person so that person could get a few dollars and buy a meal.
When I questioned him recently about his generosity he explained that he views his role here on earth to be that of a caregiver and that the hunger pangs he often experiences are overridden by the look of joy on a person’s face when he gives them the means to obtain a meal for themselves.
He pointed out that his heart feels it is being torn out of his chest each time he sees a fellow street person struggling to survive and he feels it is his raison d’être to give them the shirt off his back.
Sometimes all that means is sitting with a friend and comforting them when they become overwhelmed by the harshness of their circumstances.
Doug is always available to help and asks for nothing in return.
He epitomizes The Habit of Kindness and Caring, often at great cost to himself.
One of his friends described him as “a man who has nothing and gives everything.”
I have spent much time thinking about Doug. He is living evidence that material poverty is in no way connected to the richness of our souls.
An ancient Buddhist proverb reminds us that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Doug is such a teacher.
Now, if only the word had more ready students.
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.
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