Written Thursday, Sept 17th @ 5:31PM EST

I just got slapped in the head by someone panhandling on Gerrard (between Broadview and Hamilton)!  It was in a good way, though 🙂

Actually, it was a handshake… that somehow turns into a side hug with the left hand grabbing the side of the other guy’s head.  These things happen.

The guy I met is named Runny Rivers.  As it turns out, it’s related to the poetry that he sometimes writes.  When he recounts his memories as he writes – memories are sad, he told me – the words get blurred by his tears.  Runny rivers.

I got talking with him as I got off the 50″something” street car that goes down Gerrard St E.  He asked me if I could help him, with his cap held out I think, for some food.  Before I even got to him, I was thinking about whether I had the time (well, I had the time.  The emotional effort was more the issue) to stop and talk with him.  I was also thinking about whether I had any Tim Hortons gift certificates, or some other non-cash provision I could give him.  Then I realized I had been carrying around a 230 gram box of Nature Valley granola bars (they were supposed to be for breakfast so that I wouldn’t keep eating my hosts’ waffles).  High in fibre, protein, and calories – perfect! (I would feel super bad if I gave a panhandler or homeless person junk food)

We got to talking, I asked him if he was from the area or where he lived or something, and he mentioned that he’d lived here all his life.  He was born on the East Coast – Newfoundland, to be exact.  We talked a bit more, and I asked him if was connected up with any good organizations that could offer help to him.  I mentioned that I was a Christian, so I was wondering if there were any Churches that fit the bill, either?  (Actually, I find that asking panhandlers or homeless persons if they know of any good organizations, government agencies, or CHURCHES is a good way to give them a bit of a hint that you think Jesus is someone they need to know)  He mentioned that he was a Christian, too!

That put me into “evangelism” mode (ok, there aren’t really any modes.  Just living life.  But basically, it changes things because now it’s relevant to talk directly about spiritual things).  I’m usually cautious when someone tells me they’re a Christian, because, hey – it’s the West.  Half the country says they’re Christian (according to Stats Can; something like that).  I asked him what he means, or what it means to him to say that he’s a Christian.  He gave me an explanation about how it’s important to care about people, and as we kept talking he told me about how sometimes when he does something really wrong, he tells God he’s sorry and asks for another chance – because everyone deserves another chance if they’re sincere about it.

That’s actually a key difference between what most North Americans see spirituality as, and what Christianity claims is actually true about God and us.  I longed to tell him that what I believed when I call myself a Christian – and he didn’t have to accept it, but I wanted to share what I thought – is that actually no one deserves a second chance.  And that’s why Jesus is so important to Christians – because He came to forgive us and take the guilt that we deserved away from us, and on to Him (I’m still working on my one sentence presentation of the Gospel.  I think it’s really important to be able to explain how a person can receive Christ in one or two sentences, without using “Christianese”).

Actually, I did explain that last part to him, but that was earlier on when, after he explained what being a Christian meant to him, I then explained what being a Christian meant to me.  That it meant believing that everyone was equal, and that we’ve all done bad things before, and that’s why Jesus is such a big deal to Christians because… (see earlier one-sentence attempt at the Gospel).

But why am I writing this?  I actually didn’t really want to write a detailed story of how I met Runny Rivers.  It takes effort, just like it takes effort to meet new people – whether they’re on the street or in the classroom.  But he asked me to write about him one day, and I told him that I would do it on my online journal.

One thing I forget about people who I meet on the street is how much they are longing for personal connection.  Most of the time it shows through via extreme politeness and effusive thanks – which is a powerful blow to the stereotype that most Canadians have that “street people” are simply rough people.  And that’s why such people often have so much to talk with you about when you take the time to stand or sit with them.  With Runny, it was important to have physical contact.  Hence the handshaking – he even tried to teach me a modified “cool” handshake.  I told him I wanted to teach him the “Malawi” handshake I learned in South East Africa this summer, but he quickly overrode it before I could finish with his handshake-grab the side of the head-pull ourselves together.

We parted ways with a lot of “feel-good” type handshaking and words.  Reminds me a lot of the “hot culture” descriptions I read about in “Foreign to Familiar”, at least in terms of saying really nice things to try and create a “feel-good atmosphere”.  In a nutshell, “cold cultures” are like the very direct, straightforward, individualistic, and sometimes insensitive communication-type cultures (e.g. Europe, North America).  “Hot cultures” are the opposite – they’re very indirect, people won’t say what they’re really thinking for fear of offense, they place higher priority on community rather than the individual’s autonomy and “rights”, and it’s more important to use language to create a “feel-good”/”everyone likes one another” type atmosphere.

Anyhoo, that was my meeting with Runny Rivers.  Good guy.  The weird part is that I had random conversations with a U of T alumni (which started with, “it’s great how the girls are into wearing spandex these days, eh?” [Note: he opened with that line, not me!]) and a Bangladeshi immigrant who’s lived in Toronto for 12 years (that started with falling groceries and an overheard comment about how no one helps each other, or something like that).

Bangladesh?  That’s South East Asia, right?  I was born in Singapore!