Monday, November 19, 2007

Here's a question i asked myself today on the way home; what's the value of $20?

It's Friday, and at 4:30 I was ready to go home. It wasn't a great week. Actually, it was a tough week, I thought. Leaving the office it's snowing. I'm dreading having to clear off my car, but I'm from Montreal, I'm used to it. After a few brush strokes, I get into the car and start driving. It's a slow drive. I don't have snow tires, but there isn't too much snow on the ground. It's just a slow drive. By the time I make it onto the highway, I've already honked my horn 3 times and flashed my high beans twice.

The highways' not really any better, it just has people driving faster, but the roads are slick and I'm driving cautiously (i.e. I go from being a left lane driver to a right lane driver). On the way home I'm thinking about my job and what I'm doing and what i would like to do. I'm wondering if i forgot to do or say anything. I don't think so. So i move on to my personal-life thoughts. I think about my divorce and how i need to change my contract and how much that will cost me in lawyer fees. I'm dreading that. Then I think happier thoughts, and think back to the previous week when i was basking in the gentle sun of the Mayan Riviera. Then I started thinking about my next trip, this summer's trip to France with my two girls and girlfriend. I'm not sure how much spending money I'll have left after the lawyers... oh well; the tickets are already purchased.

The drive opens up slowly, but i notice one of the speeding cars, actually a catering van. After all that effort on his part, speeding up,
tailgating, flashing slower drivers, switching lanes countless times, somehow he's fallen behind me. I chuckle and think back to the tortoise
and the hare story.

Finally I get off the highway. Only 10 minutes to my house. What am I going to have for dinner? Did we take out a roast for dinner tonight? I think I'll drink red wine tonight, instead of white; I had that last night.

I get to an intersection (Strachan and Lakeshore for those familiar with the area in Toronto). It's snowing harder now.

I'm about 6 cars from the light and need to turn left. It's a priority light, so I'm not sure whether I'll be able to make it. I see the usual
old beggar standing in the centre island next to the light. He waits for the light to turn red, then starts slowly hobbling from the first car to
the next. Most don't acknowledge him. Heck, I never have. I'm fundamentally against giving anything to pan handlers. I believe it has
the potential of becoming a job for them, and they will never stop doing.

He get's to my car. He's covered in snow. His old gray hair covered in snow, and he's holding out his hat. I ignore him, but I can't help looking at him through the corner of my eyes. In the span of 2 seconds, a flood of thoughts rush through my head. parallel thoughts turning into noise. I think about my crappy day. I think about my uncertain future. I think about my dad and how an unfortunate fraction of a second turned him from a vibrant healthy man to a forever hospitalized old man with no hope of ever remembering what he had or of ever dreaming of a better future. I think about my difficult past and how hard it's been for me to get to where i am. I think about what i have in my wallet.

snow falls into his blinking eyes, weighing down his eyelashes. He stand away from my car. I find he looked so sad at that very moment. Then he straightens up, looks at the line up of cars behind me and then he turns and looks at the light. He knows the schedule. he knows it's about to
turn green.

The last thought that went through my head was "help him".

I open my window and call out to him. I reach into my wallet and take out a $20. I give it to him. I look at him as he's staring at me dumbfounded. No smile. Look of happiness.

"Get indoors. Get out of this weather", I said.

"Thank you." he replied.

My light turns green. Slowly cars are making their way through the
intersection. I hope i don't make it.

I keep looking back in my rearview. He's slowly lumbering along.

The light turns red when i get to the intersection. This made me happy.

I watch him to my left as he gets his backpack from behind a street sign. He puts the $20 in the backpack. He grabs his wooden cane handing off the street sign and waits for the light to turn green so he can cross.

Eventually it does, and I slowly make my way through the intersection, I watch him hobbling across the street.

Two intersections down, I felt elated, as though i had just done something that was fundamentally right. I don't know what he'll do with the money, or where he's going, but in my mind I see him someplace warm.

It's not a fresh start for him and won't change his life, but on this day, it got him out of the cold. And it warmed me up inside in a way I have
actually never felt.

So what's the value of $20? For me, it's just $20, but for someone else it probably was worth a whole lot me.

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