Inner City Diary
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Somehow my hope survives their despair
October 21, 2001
“Don’t you ever feel like giving up?”

I guess some folks ask me that question because of the type of work I do.

It seems much of my life is lived between extremes of hope and despair.

The other day I was leaving my house and noticed folks staring at something on the steps of the building next door. Their looks of fear and disgust prompted me to go to the stairwell. Once there, I saw Yvonne.

She was a sorry sight, solvent and saliva congealing and hanging from her face. Hair a mess. Bruises from a recent fall. Her eyes, as if defying gravity, kept rolling back in her head. The scent of solvent mixed with body odour clung to her like a cloud.

She may be scary to some, but to me she’s just Yvonne. I put my hand on her shoulder and tried to get her to focus on my face. She recognized me. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m okay.”

“You don’t look okay,” I responded.

I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want help?” Unfortunately, she was sure. Somewhere between understanding her survival instincts and knowing the limits of police, I figured I better respect her desire to squat in the rubble of her decisions.

A weird part of me admires her toughness. Another part fears for the day she’ll probably be found dead in some back lane. But what can you do if she doesn’t do something? I went on to do other things that day, but couldn’t shake that picture of Yvonne.

At 6am the next morning, someone told me about a smoke alarm going off in a nearby apartment. Inside, I was hit with smoke from unattended food on the stove. Contents of the pot were smoldering, ready to ignite. I managed to get the pot into water and turned off the stove. I opened windows, so I could see as I looked around the apartment.

There were two young people fast asleep on the bed. Empty beer bottles littered the apartment. Both teens were passed out. Clueless as to what could have happened.

I tried to wake them. I yelled. I shook them. Finally, I got water from the sink and dumped it on their heads. The guy with the “gangster” tattoo came out of his stupor long enough to say, “What are you doing? Leave me alone.”

I don’t get it. It’s like coming to help someone out of a burning, collapsing building and them saying, “That’s okay. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine here!” I know this is a free country, but I don’t know how a firefighter would deal with that.

Awhile ago, I wrote about a fellow whose family was wondering if he was still alive after being sucked into the vortex of inner-city crack houses. We personally delivered posters with his picture to pawn shops and crack houses. Within an hour of delivering the notices, the object of the frantic search called to request that we stop passing out posters.

Sometimes I wish it was legal to knock people out and haul them to safety. To act on the conviction that you know better. To ignore the protests of broken, bloody people who try to tell you they’re okay and don’t need help.

Out of respect for remnants of dignity and illusions of liberty, I give in to their requests to be left alone cause they’re “okay.” Okay with sniffing, drinking, fighting, hooking themselves into oblivion. Whatever.

So I back off, but I won’t go away. I can’t live anyone else’s life for them - and I’ve learned it’s probably better that way. So I’ll give in, but I refuse to give up. Where’s there’s life there’s hope.

I’m haunted by the despair of some of the folks in our neighbourhood. I’ve sometimes wondered about my role in the neighbourhood. But whatever my conclusions, feelings and words, we’re still neighbours.

Some haunt me with their despair. I guess I haunt them with my hope.

Sometimes it’s more about waiting than winning. It’s about caring - and staying.
Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Contact info:
New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929
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