UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Midlife Matters

Every generation needs to confront the reality of economic disparity

By Larry Krotz

Each morning from my sixth-floor apartment, I watch my neighbour pack his bed and get ready to start the day. In an elaborate ritual, he folds blankets to be stowed in an enormous rucksack, then carefully rolls a bulky sleeping bag up tight. Finally, he meticulously sheathes the pieces of cardboard that formed his mattress inside plastic wrap to protect them from the wet. Then he begins the short trek up to the bushes in front of the fence that runs along the subway corridor. Here, these few worldly goods can be securely hidden until he returns many hours later. Only then does my neighbour stand upright, shift his shoulders into his heavy jacket and trudge off to commence the next chapter of his day.

I don’t know if he knows I’m watching. Or if he cares. In the summer, there were mornings when I quite envied him. Sleeping under the stars, and waking to chirping birds and the grass newly mown by the city parks department had its appeal. As autumn and the first snow arrived, I was sure he’d move on to a shelter. But as winter set in, with the snow knee-deep, he was still there.

I’ve experienced the predictable rush of thoughts. Should I offer him money? Should I call social services and have him picked up? Should I contact my member of Parliament with a renewed appeal for affordable housing? At least we should take him some hot breakfast, my wife insists. So far, we’ve stopped short of doing anything.

All these impulses seem inadequate if not worse, intrusive. I fear being a busybody. I am reminded of when I was a young man in Winnipeg and instead of giving a panhandler the quarter he requested, insisted he join me in a nearby restaurant to share a bowl of soup — and the longest 20 minutes of the poor man’s life.

Taking another tack, I have tried to respect how much hard work it takes to maintain an independent life, avoiding the shelters, picking and choosing the soup kitchens, getting yourself to the right ones on the appropriate days. Even to panhandle with any success demands skills that should provide case studies for business schools. “If you’re happy and you know it, spare some change,” a perennially cheerful chap used to sing at a prime corner of midtown Toronto. He knew he needed to sell passersby a version of his misery (but not too much), all the while sustaining a gimmick that made him stand out.

What’s unavoidable is a deep perplexity. The poor you always have with you, Jesus said.

This seems a statement of stark reality, though. Jesus being Jesus, he more likely put it out as something the rest of us — more fortunate, if you like to use that term — would perpetually have to wrestle with. A burden for our conscience. Every generation, every culture, needs to confront the reality of disparity.

In the case of my world, behind the little park are condos where penthouses sell for $16 million. What then is required of us? Certainly, that we enact justice. But, just as importantly, that we face our motives and separate pity from respect. And perhaps finally, that we cope with the simple idea of “neighbour.”

In the midst of these differences, we all are a community.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image
Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Promotional Image