I met Alan five years ago when St. John’s opened a drop-in centre in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. Our drop-in centre is in an area made up mostly of immigrants and communities of homeless people scattered around the train tracks.
Five years ago, as today, Alan was homeless and making a living cleaning shop windows. He came in the first time wanting a meal and, in exchange, he cleaned our front windows.
We soon discovered that he spoke Spanish and was originally from Peru.
Over the years, he and I met almost daily. He comes in for coffee with his girlfriend Mony, who suffers from mental issues. He looks after her even though it’s a stormy relationship. We have a supply of cigarettes from the local First Nations reserve, and so he drops by for his daily cigarettes. We have seen him in and out of jail, in different states of “repentance”.
You think, over the years, that you know someone, but Alan was proof to me that a person always remains a mystery and that we know little of the people whom we tend to judge and put labels on. A month ago, Alan came in when there was no one around; his girlfriend was in another part of town because they had had a rift. A unique opportunity opened up of exchange between Alan and me. I learned about his growing up in Peru, how it was to immigrate as a child to Scarborough, and his difficult place in his family. “I am the black sheep of the family,” he loves to say.
I also heard a lot about his mother whom he adores. ... Alan described her illness and the very moment of her death. He spoke of how, until the end, she was a good mother to all, and kept a sense of humour. There were now tears in his eyes, flowing from a face that has been carved out by the street life of the last several decades.
By sharing with me his love for his mother, Alan opened up to me a part of his heart, and our relationship has never been the same since then. I feel his mother helped this new relationship be born between us. A mother’s love never dies.
By Roberto Ubertino