One time a friend and I went to Toronto to celebrate my birthday. We went to the Eaton Centre to shop, and later when we were sitting on a bench resting a very elderly homeless women came and sat down on our bench and did not acknowledge us.
She was in her own world and was wincing as if in pain. Suddenly she reached down and gingerly pulled off her literally holey old filthy sneakers.
My first thought was, “Good Lord it’s dead of winter … her feet must be freezing.”
She clenched her teeth as she pulled her sneaker off; she had on plastic bags over bare feet. She paused as if readying herself, and then gingerly started to peel off the plastic that was stuck to raw holes in her feet, which were bleeding and worse.
My friend and I exchanged looks of horror and pity. The woman was still acting oblivious to us. Sadly, I assume interactions with her aren’t normally encouraged.
I suddenly stood and told my friend that I would be right back. I went a few stores down and bought some fur-lined boots with a side zipper that would be less painful to put on. I returned to the bench and set the package between the elderly woman and me.
She didn’t even glance at the bag, as she was still dealing with her feet. I nodded to my friend for us to leave.
As we started to walk away, she finally spoke in a frail voice, “Miss, Miss, you’re forgetting your bag,” she said, as she lifted it up to hand to me.
I looked confused and said: “Oh that’s not mine, are you sure it’s not one of yours?” (she had none). She started to protest, then seemed to notice the look in my eyes and her face softened and then she smiled a little and as if amazed, said, “Yeah, maybe it is mine.”
We bid her a good day as we walked away and went in a store and watched from where we wouldn’t be seen by her.
We watched as she smiled as she opened the bag; she giggled as she stroked the fur-lined boot. Then silent tears started to run down her cheeks, yet still smiling she muttered to herself expressing her joy, having no one else to share it with.
She was in her own little world again, and seemed to not notice how people ignored her as they passed by. Her acceptance and expectation of being treated as if invisible deeply saddened me.
She took her sneakers and plastic bags and threw them with exaggeration into the garbage barrel beside her, as if to say, “And GOOD RIDDANCE!”
Still happily muttering, she carefully slipped the boots on. She stood and took a few steps and then sat down again, and for a few minutes just stared at her boots as if looking at a new-found treasure. Finally, she stood and walked away happily, and smiled through her tears.
Though she walked right past us, she didn’t notice us … just as people do to her every day.
How sad that just having a simple pair of boots had made such a difference in her life. I have thought of her often, and I have wondered about her, and if she was someone’s forgotten mom?
How we treat each other is ultimately what our society and our world becomes. No one deserves to be forgotten or be treated as if they are invisible.