To Be Seen

a.aaa-Invisible-Homeless-ManTo be seen and known, to matter to someone else—this is one of our deepest universal human desires. The heartbreaking opposite is to be invisible—to have others look right through you as if you are a part of the sidewalk. When others don’t see you, you start to lose yourself; you disappear little by little…

It’s mid-evening, and the Richmond sidewalks are a mess of melting spring-snow; damp air and drizzle sting my face. I notice a man a little ways ahead, in the shadows of a store front; he’s agitated, his posture tense, his voice loud. Soon, I can see his disheveled dark hair and scars on his cheek. It’s Freddy, a man I’ve come to know during many walks downtown, where he sits on the sidewalk day after day, ready to talk with anyone who will listen. 

I’ve never seen Freddy so upset before. When I pause and say hello, he seems surprised and relieved to see me, and before long, the hurts of his day pour out, his words tumbling faster than I can catch them. He tells me how a couple of people walking by that day said unkind things to him and judged him; but worse, he explains, were all the people who pretended they didn’t see him and said nothing at all…

“I’m a nice guy! I’m a nice guy, and I say nice things. Even the police know I’m nice, and they leave me alone, because they know I don’t cause trouble, don’t hurt no one. But the people who walk by me… they judge me! They say mean things, or lift their noses at me. But the worst is when they ignore me. I say hello and they walk right by, like I’m not even here… Why won’t they talk to me? Why am I invisible?”

The truth in his words overwhelms me. He tells me even his family won’t have contact with him. “No one in my family calls me when someone dies. When my aunt died, no one even told me.” To feel invisible is an unbearable loneliness. “Someday I’ll die on the street, and nobody will even know.”

I wish more people knew Freddy. For me, he’s always been welcoming and kind, inviting me into conversation, remembering my name, and making me feel at home. He tells me about his family, his sons, his life regrets and hurts. I’m blessed by his trust and openness. It seems easy now, to stop and talk, but I’m aware there was a time when it wouldn’t have been as easy, when I didn’t yet know the beautiful ways that God would reach me and love me through someone like him.

My story in learning about homelessness and poverty goes back a few years. I was new in London and attending Western, when I first began hearing confusing advice from well-meaning people: ‘don’t go downtown. Maybe go as far as Richmond Row, but not all the way to Dundas.’ They advised it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t like it, the people there were ‘different’… I know they were trying to help. Truth was, some of them didn’t seem to even know why there were telling me—it was a message passed on from person to person. A never-ending cycle of fear perpetuated by lack of understanding.

Thankfully, I ended up exactly where they told me not to go… living out community in the downtown. Thankfully I became involved with Sanctuary London, where I began to meet many people at street-level… some of the most warm-hearted and caring people I’ve ever met. During my walks downtown, I started to chat with Freddy and others in his shoes—I started to really see them in new ways.

Someone who doesn’t know Freddy might have misunderstood his frustration that night as unkind or unsafe, and avoided him. But the very reason for his anger and hurt was that no one knew him—no one cared… the chaos in his heart was born of a deep longing for human connection.

How do we get there, I wonder? How do we stop closing our eyes and pretending the hurt right in front of us doesn’t exist? How do we treat those we meet on the streets like they matter, as God’s sons and daughters, as his beloved? How do we follow God in loving those we are afraid to love? Often it’s through these very friendships that he gives us eyes to see, eyes to behold his glory. And as we see the ‘other’ with love, we also receive the eyes to see ourselves with love, and the deeper knowing that we too are God’s beloved.

Posted in Stories from the Streets | Leave a comment

Warming the Cold

“It’s been 20 years since I slept outside in the winter…but when we get temperatures like this, I can still feel that cold. It’s a pain filled cold. Empty… yeah, I still feel that,” Manny shared with us a couple … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

YOU are Invited!

Sanctuary’s 3rd Anniversary Celebration Return to the 80′s! Power bangs and mullets, Rick Astley and Twisted Sister, moon walks and Rubix Cubes! Join us for a night of fun, music, and an air band contest! Friday, February 28th, 7pm-11pm 513 … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Sanctuary is ‘Together’

It had been a long, stressful, and difficult day, and my heart was not in the best shape. To make matters worse, I was arriving at the Wednesday drop-in later than usual, and I dreaded entering the large, crowded atrium … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

A Closer Look Into Sanctuary’s Monday Drop-ins!

This gallery contains 42 photos.

Ever wonder what we are up to Mondays at Sanctuary? This photo story will give you a closer look into a typical Monday drop-in. The fun, friendships, community, support, meal… but most of all, the togetherness and belonging, and walking … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Amazing Grace

This gallery contains 1 photo.

It was an early spring day, rainy, mid-March, and the drop-in was crowded with people coming in from the damp cold, stamping water off their boots, and gathering around tables for warm soup and sandwiches. Luke and I were sitting … Continue reading

More Galleries | 1 Comment

This gallery contains 1 photo.

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Love Stretches

I love you… You matter to me… I will not leave you.We long to hear these affirmations, but when they come, we struggle to believe them. We push them away. That’s impossible, we say, I’m not good enough… why would … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Advent Light

This gallery contains 1 photo.

One year ago, at our Wednesday Christmas drop-in, one of our Sanctuary friends gave me a small Christmas cactus. Pete is a very kind and soft-spoken man, with a spirit of love and generosity. He had shared with me that … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

‘Submit to One Another….’

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Henry has been helping out in the kitchen here at Sanctuary for two or three months now.  Every Wednesday he is there at 3pm sharp, ready and excited to tackle whatever cooking adventure we have lined up for the day.  … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment