At 8:30 this morning I was supposed to meet our friend Grace at the Sanctuary office to go to court together. I came a few minutes early, just in case she came early. I didn’t want her to knock on a locked door and risk having her walk away, especially on such a cold morning. Court was at 9:30, but I promised her a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before we walked down the road to the courthouse together.
With the coffee brewing, I sat down to wait and reflect on our conversation from the week before. I was still hurting for Grace. Her story is tragic, filled with heartbreak after heartbreak, and yet, at over seventy years old, she is one of the most loving and the most resilient people I have ever met. Never had a father. Abuse. Hurt by the church. Extreme mental health issues. Years and years of being locked up in psych wards. Dozens of rounds of electro-shock therapy. Coerced into an unhealthy marriage, husband died. And for the past five years has lived in shelters since her most recent release from the hospital. Three weeks ago, she was banned from the shelter due to a misunderstanding, so now she is forced to wander the streets all day and wait in line at 9pm every night hoping for a bed at the crash beds.
Grace doesn’t really have much, and she is almost always without any money to her name. This is sometimes a result of her being taken advantage of, but more often a result of her extreme generosity. She is under the care of the Guardian and Public Trustee, who over see all her government given funds, but she spends almost all of it on helping others. Not long ago she told me that she met a new friend who was sleeping under the bridge. She met him while he was out looking for old cigarette butts with a few puffs left to smoke He explained to Grace that he was trying to quit using his drug of choice and the only thing that helped was to replace the drug use with cigarette use. “I know cigarettes are bad and everything, but I would do anything to help someone not use drugs!” she said. And she continued, “He didn’t ask me, but I went right then and there to the closest corner store and bought a pack of cigarettes for the first time of my life and gave them to him… I hope God doesn’t get too upset with me, I promise you I didn’t smoke any of them myself!” She often tells me with a smile, “Food and a place to sleep is really all I need to survive, and I get all that from the shelters and soup kitchens, so why wouldn’t I give my money away to the people who can use it more?”
We were supposed to go to court to plead guilty to a charge of ‘theft under $5000’. She was caught red-handed stealing a small bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol and a package of Ricola lozenges from the Rexall at Dundas and Richmond (actually they were a Rexall house brand name lozenge, but I couldn’t find a photo of that on Google Images). She had a very sore throat and a headache from a terrible head cold she had been fighting for the past few weeks. “I just couldn’t take it any more Darryl” she said to me, “I felt like my head was going to explode, and my next bit of money was still a few days away from coming. I know I did wrong, and I’m really sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do”. Then she added, “Don’t worry Darryl, the police officer was very friendly to me. He even apologized and said he wished he could let me know, but he had no choice because the store manager was ‘tired of petty thieves and wanted to set a precedent’, whatever that means”.
It is now 4:30pm and, as I write this, I wonder if she decided to go to court without me, or if she wasn’t able to find a safe place to sleep last night. At her age, I wonder if she is still alive. I long to see her warm smile. Where is Grace in all of this?