May 07, 2015 - Don (an update)
One of the many unexpected pleasures of this project for me, is the ongoing connections. Friendships that I’ve forged with people that I’ve met simply by asking strangers to chat with me. There are days when I’ll see three or four people who are no longer strangers to me. Sometimes we wave and say hello as we pass, other times we'll stop on the sidewalk and have a catch-up chat. Some people I’ve become good friends with and we go out for coffee, or lunch, or walks. It really has become a community of connected people.
I first chatted with Don in July of last year. (See link below in the comments.) His story was somewhat of an emotional roller-coaster, yet throughout our chat, he held his head high. He has made it through and survived situations that a lesser person might not have been able to endure. His story was very well received and sparked quite a bit of dialogue. Some of his family managed to find the story as well. It was wonderful to see the outpouring of love for a man that had warmed my heart in the thirty minutes we had initially chatted for.
I ran into him a few days later; he was grinning as he told me that he had been getting messages from people that had read his story.
"How cool it that? People read about me!"
Three months later, I was walking across the Cambie Street bridge with two friends of mine who were visiting from New York. I saw Don walking towards us and I stopped to say hello. I introduced him to my friends, and we stood and chatted for a couple of minutes. Once again, he told us all about more of his family reading his story, and how great it had been that we got to chat that first time. As we walked away, one of my friends couldn’t believe that this had just happened.
“That is so amazing that you’re making these connections. Running into people that you randomly approached, and now it’s clear there’s a connection between the two of you. I’m so glad I got to witness that,” he said.
On Tuesday, I was walking down the street and saw Don just ahead of me, not far from where we had first met. I caught up with him waiting to cross the street. At first he seemed a little unsure whether or not I had the right person when I said hello. I called him by name, which only made him look all the more puzzled, in a ‘How do you know my name?’ sort of manner. I reminded him that we had met last year, in a small park nearby and that we had chatted and I wrote about his stories.
“Oh, yeah. I remember you,” he said cheerily. He might have had a beer or two.
“We met up there, in that park, didn’t we?!” he said pointing to exactly where we had indeed, first met. It's been almost a year since then, and eight months since i've last seen him. We walked and chatted for a few minutes. I was going to get some groceries and Don was going to cash-in some bottles and cans he had collected.
He told me that he wasn’t doing so well, when I asked.
“I’m having to move out of my place,” he said, stopping and standing still on the sidewalk.
“I’ve been in this place for three years, and I like it. I was the first person to move in there. I was the first one they called when it opened. It’s First Nations housing. But now I have to move,” he said, rather sullenly.
Throughout his childhood, moving was something that happened frequently. His mother would suddenly tell him ‘We’re going to Vancouver,’ and they’d leave the North Coast immediately. They went back and forth. He was also removed from his family for a time, unexpectedly, as a kid while other siblings remained in the home.
“It’s so stressful to have to deal with this again,” Don said. It seems he was only permitted to stay in the room he was in for three years.
“They’ll find me other housing. I’m just not sure where it will be, or how long it will take them,” he told me.
“I know it will all work out in the end, but it’s tough not knowing where or when I’m going to get another place to live. It’s frustrating.” We had walked for a couple blocks and Don was going to go into the LCB and I was carrying on toward the grocery store.
I asked him if I could take picture of the two of us and write an update about running into him.
“A picture? Really? If you must. I don’t like my pictures that much,” he said. That had been the theme of the conversation the first time we met and I took his photo. Don doesn’t like having his picture taken. I took two photos of us. I didn’t like the first one, because I also don’t like having my picture taken, although I’m getting over that. I showed Don the one I liked of him, and before I could say anything, he said, “See. What a horrible picture!”
I look up, only to see Richard, another strainer from last year heading our way. Richard had agreed to not only chat with me, but he allowed our conversation to be filmed, and that footage was used in the trailer for the Indiegogo campaign for the documentary 'Not A Stranger.' I introduced Richard and Don. We had a conservation about Don's birthplace, Kitkatla, near Prince Rupert. Richard had travelled up and down the north coast of British Columbia for his work, and knew where Don was from. Such a wonderfully occurrence. I didn't think about it until later, when I was walking home, that I should have gotten a photo of the three of us. Sorry Richard, I know I'll see you again though!
Before Don left, he told me, “Oh I should tell you. Everyone in my village read the story. They all liked it,” his face beaming with pride.
“The next time I go home to visit, and it won’t be that long now. Well, I might even be a bit of a celebrity!” He made me smile so much, I instinctively threw my arms around him. He hugged me right back. These moments are precious gifts. #notastranger