Sometimes walking along Queen Street into Parkdale gives me whiplash.
For the couple of years I lived in Parkdale, I felt able to walk along Queen without interruption and get to my destination without talking to a single soul. Now that I work in Parkdale, I am getting to know the faces and names of my new community as I grow together with my friends in my role at The Dale. I walk along Queen and can’t go far without a head nod or a wave, a “See you tomorrow at drop-in”, or a hug and smile. There are days that I love this about Parkdale, and days that I feel like putting on a cap and sunglasses and running.
However, the sidewalk of Queen Street under my feet is becoming more familiar as we continue to expand our outreach efforts as a team. We have begun walking as a staff team on Thursday mornings with an addictions counsellor from Parkdale Community Health Centre. The four of us walk West on Queen, and East back, talking to many of our friends we pass along the way. So this new routine, along with our regular nomadic routine of strolling through the area to get from drop-in to drop-in, often leads to conversation.
We usually pass PARC right before 11am when the food bank opens and get the chance to visit with many of our friends waiting in line to receive food. Although they are waiting to have their bags filled, they fill our hearts with their words and hugs as we pass by every week. We are greeted by our nicknames and asked how our walk is going. We talk about the bible sometimes, what food is hoping to be obtained at the food bank (usually spaghettios), reminders about our weekly schedule, or how things are going at the Dale. We welcome people back who may have strayed from us, and let them know where to find us. We are given poems and writing, hugs, words of affirmation, and happy greetings. PARC is always hoppin’ on a Thursday morning and it’s nice to see friends new and old and catch up in bunches on the sidewalk. To anyone walking by, we may seem like an odd bunch, and we are happy to be that way – diverse and strong in numbers.
Sometimes our interactions are more serious… a friend sits drinking on the ground, sitting in sorrow and in need of some cheer. Another is wondering if God can see past her exterior that others recoil at, and see her for who she really is – as a special, loving soul. Some friends are sitting in their normal spots with hats or cups out for change, and the wear of sitting in those spots day after day is bearing heavy on their hearts. We stand around them, hands on shoulders, and eyes wide as if to convey “we see you. the you that god made. the you that god loves. a child of heaven.”
Sometimes in the hour or so it takes to walk along Queen and back we have laughed full belly laughs and held back tears in the next five minutes. Somehow either way, we are almost always greeted and left with a smile and God Bless. We love our friends, and they love us in return. Queen Street can feel like an alternate universe sometimes full of magical wonder and change. However it also feels like a constant in our lives. One that can bring us joy or heartache. One that we will always walk with hands stretched out, eyes to see, and ears to listen.
Sometimes as I said, I feel like putting on a cap and sunglasses and running though Parkdale. But most days, almost always, it is worth it to take those things off. Because the conversations are worth it. Next time you see one of my friends on Queen Street, say hello and smile. You never know what you’re gonna get.