Guest post by Bryna Jones (Toronto, Ontario)
I’ve recently made friends with a homeless woman named Valerie. Like many adult friendships, it didn’t happen on purpose, but grew out of the regular sharing of public space; that space being the sidewalk in front of the LCBO on Dupont, which I pass everyday on my walk from the subway to work.
It started with brief eye contact, me putting a few dollars into her cup when I had some change, and grew to exchanging pleasantries. But after six months of seeing this woman every day, I started to feel rude for not saying hello and introducing myself. So one day I made the choice to stop, shake Val’s hand and see what happened.
What happened next was friendship. It grew slowly, with more information shared during our subsequent conversations. I don’t talk to Valerie because I feel sorry for her. I don’t do it because it makes me feel better about myself. I’m her friend, and she is mine, because we’ve taken the time to connect with each other.
Connecting with others and building relationships should be natural. So why is it such a struggle to recognize and admit to our commonalities when we pass each other in the street? Why don’t we make eye contact with each other and say hello?
Introducing myself to Valerie was a fantastic decision. Her positive attitude, openness and sense of humour make her one of the most approachable people I know. I don’t always give her money, but I always make sure I stop to ask how she’s doing, and sometimes even make the odd trip to Shopper’s Drug Mart to get her Advil or a snack. There’s nothing about this that makes me some kind of hero. It just makes me her friend.
Every day we’re given the opportunity to be kind to people just because we can. Over Christmas I had a day or two when I was feeling lonely. My son was with his dad for part of the holiday, and I didn’t have much to do. I started thinking about all of the great people that are in my life and how strange it was that I could feel alone when I’m so regularly surrounded by others. It made me think about Val – about the fact that she has three kids she doesn’t see; about the fact that her friends left her on the sidewalk when she slipped on some ice. How many other ‘Valeries’ are out there?
I’m not saying that everyone should befriend a homeless person (but maybe you should). What about surprising someone you already know with kindness? Take a colleague out for lunch to get to know them better. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to for ages and reconnect. Smile at the cashier at the grocery store, and tell him to have an amazing day. There are as many ways to reach out to others as there are people in this world.
And we all need it. We need human contact. We need love.
In a culture where individualism and the Self are regarded so highly, we easily forget what it means to live in relation to others, and to make choices based on our mutual interests. But the good news is it doesn’t take much to change our worldview. Sometimes it’s a simple as a “Hi. How are you?”
Bryna Jones is the Director of Communications at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, an environmental consulting firm. She’s also a mom, irregular blogger, newbie cyclist, and avid reader. Click here to see more of her work.
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