“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
~ Mark Twain
On February 3rd I was on board the TTC subway, taking the train from York Mills, where I was visiting a good friend of mine from college, to the Union station where I was planning to take a bus back to my hometown. We had stayed up late that night, and I languidly pulled out the book I had brought with me. As I sat on the train for the short ride, a man in a wheelchair, a beggar, made his way from the back of the train to the front, a cup in hand. As he made his way from my 9 clock to my 12, I paused to acknowledge the man, then returned to my book. I had money, and I should have given it to him.
Nonetheless, he asked the lady beside me to spare some change, and she too declined. Not a moment after this, I heard the man say, “What are you reading?”. I looked up, saw he was speaking to me, and flipped the front of my book into his view so he could read the title. “Anna Karenina? I read that in school!”. We then spoke briefly, or rather he spoke to me, about the various books he read in school (he seemed to enjoy Tom Sawyer novels). When he spoke to me, he struggled to maintain eye contact. After our conversation, he continued on his way, asking his fellow riders if they had any change to spare. I don’t think the man realized, but in that moment I was moved. Not due to the conversation we had had, but due to the feeling I felt when we spoke. It’s more than common for the daily commuter to pass by a man on the street, and not look twice. In fact, it’s easier not to look at all. But this time, I made an effort to look this man in the eye, and talk to him as if he was a friend, with me on the train. I didn’t give him any money, but after our encounter, I wish I did. I was amazed when he spoke of the book I was reading, and I could tell he was an honest man. And every man or woman we see on the street could be an honest man or woman, who went to school, who read the same books we read now, but finds themselves in a situation which can make people forget that they too are people. Therefore, next time you see a homeless or underprivileged man or woman on the street, take the time to speak genuinely and kindly, as you would to someone close to you. Who knows what you may find. I found my next book, and a new perspective on humanity.