Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Back to Basics

We live in a fairly well-off, suburban, single family home, neighbourhood that has it's fair share of white picket fences and manicured gardens. We're not really close to anything commercial or industrial, so people roaming our nearby streets either live here, or are visiting someone else who lives here. So it was with much surprise that I saw a homeless man walking down one of the busier streets in this said neighbourhood. I had a few seconds to take note of him as drove by in my vehicle. He was pushing a metal shopping cart filled most of the way with a bulging green garbage bag. He had a well worn but appropriately warm hat on his head that allowed trails of long, matted grey hair to hang from it. His face was dark and weathered from no doubt many years in the sun and other elements. He had several layers of clothes on his body, none of which had seen a washing machine for extended periods of time. His black trousers appeared torn and split towards the bottom cuffs, perhaps from being over-worn, or from the work of a misguided dog. Over his feet he wore black boots that must have walked many, many miles.

I believe I have seen this gentleman previously in other neighbourhoods, pushing the same cart, walking with a purpose that only he knows of. He has never asked passing strangers for money, or caused any disturbances. He simply appears to have some place he's planning to get to, and no apparent agenda on when to arrive.

As I pondered this man and his first-glance circumstances, my first reaction was to feel sorry for him. He likely has no home, no possessions of material worth, no means to keep his body clean and tidy, etc. How must it feel to be looked upon as 'dirty' and 'caste-away' by the observer.

But then I had a second thought. This man had something I was particularly envious of. All he owned was in that medium sized bag being pushed around in his cart. He had no ties to trivial trinkets, nor was he in need of de-cluttering his overstuffed closets and drawers. He had liberated himself from weighty and often burdonsome possessions and had whittled down what was important to him in one plastic bag. How freeing it would feel to not have to look after, upkeep, or worry about the condition of some of my possessions that I neither need nor properly appreciate, and to keep only the basics that really mean something to me. How many bags could I trim my treasures to? Twelve? Six? Surely not one.

Though he lacked a squeaky clean complexion, I saw no evidence of fear in his eyes about making mortgage payments, deciding which vehicle would suit him best, or if he would be late for some appointment across town. I took a moment to considered how it would feel to be that free; to have simplified life to that extent, and I began to feel a desire to look at my own life in different eyes. Without going to the extreme, I surely could liberate aspects of my life by eliminating some of the physical and emotional clutter that takes a much too dominant role in my day. And in so doing, I might actually be freer to explore the more meaningful things in life that I'm being kept back from currently.

I really don't know anything about the life of this gentleman, nor how he came to be at the place he is in life. But the fact that he keeps walking, keeps pushing his cart, has left an indelible impression in my mind. What first appeared as sad circumstances to me, now feels more like a gentle whisper from the background of my life, ushering me to make things simpler and thus, more meaningful. We never know how long we have here on earth... we may as well cast off the shackles of bondage and really get down to living.

-Heather McCue

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