· Vatican City ·

Building Bridges

I wish I were a tree

 I wish I were a tree  ING-012
24 March 2023

Manuel, how are you doing?

Not very well today. I can’t seem to find peace these days. Now winter is coming and I don’t know if I can sleep outside. I used to, but last winter I realized it was too cold for me. I don’t know why I changed (Note: in Toronto, winter nights can sometimes reach 30 degrees below zero).

You once told me about your fear that people will not listen to you, that you will live your life without anyone knowing anything about you. There is a newspaper that wants to listen to what the homeless and poor want to say. What do you think about that?

That sounds like a good idea to me.

Okay. So what would you like people to know about you?

That I am an Aboriginal person. That I was born and raised in Toronto.

Do you like this city?

Yes, at first I liked it because it’s the city that never sleeps: 24 hours a day, seven days a week — there’s always movement. Then the lights. I liked the lights and the brightness of this big city. At first...

And now?

I don’t like it anymore. I feel that I never have time to be with myself, to be alone. Even at night. Now I sleep in the park and there are always people walking, talking... Now I feel the need for a change. I don’t know if another city can be the answer. Maybe I need a small town to be able to isolate myself, to be alone.

What is the neighborhood you live in now like?

It’s a stacked neighborhood, where people look down on the homeless. People act like the park belongs only to them. When I’m there, they never say hello to me… On Thanksgiving I was there alone and no one spoke to me. I think I burst into tears that day. And no one cared. I thought if I died no one would care. Alive or dead they would treat me the same.

Is there anything you like there, given you haven’t left yet?

Yes, the trees. Sometimes I think they have feelings, and I wonder how it must feel to be stuck in the same place for years. They are very kind in South Riverdale. Sometimes I talk to them, “Guys, I have to leave you, I’m sorry. Winter is coming. It’s cold. I can’t stay here. I have to leave you and that makes me sad.” Sometimes I think it would be nice to turn into a tree.

Manuel, do you pray?

I used to, like the natives do. Burning tobacco and sweet grass and leaving the ashes by the trees.

Can you forgive people who ignore you?

It is very difficult now. Eventually I will have to do it, lest I keep all the anger I carry inside. Otherwise I end up punching someone in the face.

Is that helpful?

Yes, a little bit (laughs).

I see you have your phone with you. Is it the friend you don’t have?

Actually, I don’t use it as much as I used to. And it makes me angry that I have to buy a new one every month because someone steals it from me or because I lose it or break it. Most of the time during the day, I’m at the intersection. And I think in the evening I will check my phone and play a little bit. But now I am so tired that I fall asleep instantly. I used to spend more time asking Google questions.

What kind of questions?

I once asked Google how to get to heaven. I thought I wanted to go there. I don’t want to end up with the devil.

What did he answer?

I think he answered by saying that for Christians you have to have faith in Jesus and pray. I also once asked Google if God exists.

Did it clarify the question for you?

Not really. Too much political correctness. He didn’t give me a clear answer. I would have to ask again. Maybe he changed his mind.

What did you learn from being on the street in Toronto and in general?

I learned not to take things personally. To not think people are judging you. Because that was part of my problem, when they look at you and pretend you’re not there. It’s hard for me, especially when it’s a bad day. I realized that I have a lot of anger. I feel it especially when I’m afraid and fight with people I know or when I think I’m a fool for getting like this. I am always angry when I see people happy. I know it’s not right. And I feel that I am not happy, that I have never been happy and that no one should be happy (smiles). In those moments something inside me breaks down and anger is triggered. I am not happy and I have to understand why. And I have to learn not to take it out on others. That’s why I try to spend more time alone....

I have to go now. I have to go to the intersection.

*St. John The Compassionate Mission

By Father Nicolaie Atitienei *