I had a moment last week that still echoes in my head. A crisp autumn day at a downtown eastside bus stop. A neighbourhood with so much adversity it vibrates off the sidewalk and cries from the rooftops. Smothers those passing through with a veil of darkness and lost hope.
As I stood there inside the bus shelter, head down, eyes focused on the cigarette butts around my feet, a man shuffled over to me. A long black ponytail snaked down his back and his face was marked with scars. He wore a jacket not warm enough for the chill and dusty trousers that trailed along the ground.
“Wowza! How tall are you?!” He asked in awe.
“Six feet.” I stated, matter-of-factly.
“I should be that tall, but I drank Johnson & Johnson Baby Oil when I was young.” He continued his shuffle down the sidewalk as the last word slurred out of his mouth.
How does one respond to such a truth?
Minutes later, I heard the sweet strains of music. A pretty melody in contrast with the world around me. A song that had filled my soul with happiness in a tented garden party as Arcade Fire performed steps away just two months before. An environment at the other end of the spectrum from the reality I stood in that day.
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) was being projected through the area’s misfortune from the speaker of an mp3 player being held in the hand of the man I had just spoken with. He was now standing on the other side of the shelter, singing softly under his breathe. Content in the moment.
His voice cut through the dirt. It sliced through the sadness. My eyes misted over. And I lived right there in that moment. Stretching it out.
I could just catch the last words he sang as the bus pulled up to the curb…
Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise
Like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights
As I passed him to climb up the bus steps, he halted his singing and said to me, “Be safe out there. Life is hard.” I thanked him and wished him well.
The instance replayed and lingered in my mind as my journey continued.
Image from here.