in Tall Tales

Jimmy and Charlie

Last week I got out of work a little after midnight and was heading to the SkyTrain station when something caught my eye.  I was coming out of an alley when I noticed a teenager ringing the buzzers of a building across the street and then running away.  The fellow wasn’t very well dressed — red shorts and a red Wendy’s t-shirt — and I thought maybe he was high and fucking around.  This would not be an irrational conclusion given that my work borders on the “poorest postal code in Canada” (Vancouver’s downtown eastside).
I didn’t look to closely at the young man but I did realize that we were going to cross paths.  When we did so, he was running to try and catch a bus up the street from us and I immediately noticed two things: first, he was barefoot and limping; second, I realized that he had Down Syndrome.
This immediately changed the way in which I was viewing things, “what was a handicapped kid doing running around the downtown eastside with no shoes on after midnight?”
The kid ended up missing the bus and I asked him if he needed help.  He said, yes, he was lost and was trying to get back home.  One of his feet was sore and, after he showed it to me, I saw that it was bleeding (it looked like he had stepped on broken glass?).  I was able to call 911 with him and we waited and chatted together until the emergency help arrived in order to take him home.
I’m not sure how this fellow ended up downtown or what he had with him when he arrived.  I hate to think it, but there’s a good chance that somebody stole his shoes from him.  I hope he didn’t have a wallet, because all he had when I talked to him were his shorts, his Wendy’s t-shirt and an expired bus ticket that he was hoping to use.
There were other people on the street, but nobody stopped to help him.  I wonder how long he was running around looking for help.  I think that’s why he was ringing the buzzers on the building across the street from me when I first saw him.  He was trying to get help.
This sort of thing drives me mental.  Living in a world where nobody stops to assist the handicapped sixteen year old who got lost in a sketchy neighbourhood after midnight.  Fuck me.  Would anybody stop and help if my boy was lost and alone at night?  Or would it only be the vultures and the jackals who stopped to talk with him and see what they could get from him?
I had a number of reasons for stopping to help this fellow find his way home.  For me, it was a given.  It’s what it means to be human.  However, for me it was also a part of my refusal to accept the world as it is.  I want to be a part of making the world into a place where people do things like help lost children find their way again.
Even more than that, I want to give that change in the world as a gift to my son.  As I’ve said before, I’ve thrown Charlie into a pretty fucked up place.  If I love him, if I want the best for him, then I’ve got to do what I can to make this place a little less fucked up, in whatever way I can.
This is what people fail to appreciate when they accuse me of making “causes” or “ideals” more important than my little man.  What they don’t understand is that my commitment to my “causes” and my commitment to my son are one and the same thing.  Thus, to pick just one of many possible examples, I want there to be affordable housing, not only so that all people can have a safe place to live, but also so that my son can live in the sort of world where everybody has a home.  Further, by pursuing this goal in some possibly less orthodox ways, I want to show my son another lesson we desperately need to learn.  That lesson is this: if we are willing to take risks and pay a price, we can create change in our world.  We can make the world a better place.  This, I think, is amongst the greatest gifts a father could give to his child.

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  1. Great post, Dan. A good one for me to read as Lauren and I prepare to welcome our own son into this broken world next month.

  2. ‘my commitment to my “causes” and my commitment to my son are one and the same thing’
    … and holding these together in the daily mix is the abiding challenge for those of us wannabe risk-takers-who-happen-to-be-parents OR wannabe parents-who-happen-to-be-risk-takers…
    Each day (and each year…) I manage to somehow put my wife & kids before my commitment to work against injustice, or put my work commitment before my wife & kids.
    Maybe we can (all) pray for each other for more of those ‘sweet spots’ where it all comes together as it sounds like it did for you the other night. well done, Dan.

  3. The other day, I invited my two deaf neighbours and their mentally and physically retired twelve year old to my wedding.
    I went on to provide a bridesmaid dress for her as well when I noticed they had plenty of formal portrait of her in festive gear.
    The couple were pathetically grateful and it made me feel horrible. That should be standard behaviour surely?
    They had me over for a couple of drinks and showed me all the photos of the child. At some point the (deaf) mother communicated something with incredible intensity along the line of “she looks disabled to you but she’s my baby, do you get this?”
    That same night, I woke up in the middle of the night for no reason and I had a very strong sense of God saying that about me, with even more intensity: “she looks pretty f*cked up and sinful to you but she’s my baby”. I cried for a solid hour and then went back to sleep… I’m still welling up two weeks later just by typing this in.