When we lived in Montreal, my husband worked downtown (now he works from home) and I worked independently at home doing computer work for small companies that hired me for contract work. Because my schedule was flexible and I could make my own hours, every now and again I’d hop on the commuter train, which was just down the street from us, and head downtown to meet my other half for lunch.
I always left as early as possible, not long after the kids were gone for school, so I could treat myself to a cup of coffee – or two – and an enjoyable visit to the two big bookstores in the downtown area. And if the weather was nice, I’d also take a leisurely stroll on Ste. Catherine Street, Montreal’s main commercial artery, which is home to the city’s largest stores, such as the Bay, Simons, Birks and Ogilvy, as well as to an array of shops and several shopping centres, including Les Cours Mont-Royal, Place Montréal Trust, Eaton Centre, Complexe Les Ailes and Promenades Cathédrale. And, of course, my two favourite places: Chapters and Indigo.
When it was time to meet my husband, I’d stroll over to his workplace and wait for him downstairs in the lobby of the building or outside on the sidewalk on those really nice days. Eventually he’d make his way down and we’d head out to lunch in a restaurant located in Montreal’s famous ‘underground city’; a vast network of pedestrian walkways below the city, 33 kilometers worth, to be exact, where you will find 200+ restaurants, 1700 boutiques, 30 movie theatres, halls, museums, and hotels, all connected to 10 of the city's subway stations.
To get to where we intended to go, we’d enter a building at the end of the street, take an escalator down and walk through the tunnels of the underground city. And every time we entered that building, there was a scruffy-looking, (I assumed) homeless man (he seemed impoverished) standing there opening the door for everyone in hopes that someone would spare him some change.
He opened the door with one hand and held a paper cup in the other for ‘donations’. But he never asked for anything or pushed the cup towards you. Just held it at his side. And regardless of whether or not you gave him anything, as soon as you passed by the door he held open for you he’d smile and wish you a nice day.
From the first encounter, I was very touched by this man’s gentle, polite nature and his happy disposition despite his hardships, so I stopped, reached into my purse, put a few coins in his cup, looked him straight in the eyes and wished him a nice day, too. His face lit up and he flashed me a huge smile.
“So you’ve met our doorman.” My husband said.
“Oh, is he always here?”
“Every day. Pretty friendly guy, too. Never asks for anything; just smiles and opens the door for people and tells them to have a nice day. I guess you can say that this is --- his job.”
“Has he been doing this a long time?”
“A very long time...”
Every time after that, whenever I’d cross paths with this man, I’d greet him, place a few coins into his cup and wish him a lovely day. He saw me so often right before our move to Kingston that he’d smile at me from down the street as my husband and I walked towards him. Then one day, he turned to my husband (who he saw several times a week) and said to him. “Your lady --- she has beautiful eyes.”
I blushed and my husband smiled. “Looks like you made a friend” he said to me.
I guess I had.
His quiet disposition, the genuine smile that lit up his face, his friendly demeanor...there was something special about this man. I haven’t seen him since we moved here three years ago, and I’m not even sure he’s still holding down that ‘job’, but I think about him often, and hope he is doing well.
We tend to judge people like this harshly, but I question the circumstances that lead to these lives? Everybody’s got a story, and some of them are heartbreaking.
Let’s not be too hasty with our judgments.