I haven’t had the courage to find myself this morning. I have been wandering around my apartment aimlessly for hours. Sitting for a few minutes attempting to read a book, then move to the kitchen and washing dishes, playing a song or two on guitar. My thoughts are drifting, unfocused as much of my attention is going to the momentary distractions I am finding. Last night I received news of the passing of a dear friend. His name was Cal. He was a giant of a man, both in heart and stature. His generosity and kind spirit made him the kind of person you always enjoyed being around. You could never get tired of his company. Cal was a deeply loved man and was known well by many. Most people would hear Cal before they saw him. A loud and deep laugh could be heard coming down the street or hallway long before he arrived.
One of my first memories of Cal was when I saw him trade his new, warm, big winter gloves with an older man who only had small, thin, barely spring gloves. It was the coldest part of winter and if I know Cal, he was far more concerned about this other man’s hands freezing than his own. I met Cal about four years ago in a downtown Edmonton Winter Warming Centre, known by the locals as “The Drop-In.” What I haven’t told you about Cal is that he had a difficult relationship with alcohol and lived on the streets. He is what some would refer to as homeless. I can tell you this much about Cal, homeless he was not, houseless, ok yes, at times. Home was the place where he had friends and community, and I am confident that Cal had friends everywhere. I was blessed to have called him friend. Almost daily he would stop by the Drop-In after mealtime (conveniently) and ask if there were any leftovers. Of course, we always had a plate set aside for him but that’ll be our secret to keep. Over a delicious home cooked meal, we would share stories, brutally dry jokes, and a couple games of two player solitaire. It’s a fun game, give it a try.
I learned a number of important lessons that winter in Edmonton but one has stuck with me to this day like no other. Friendships last longer than sandwiches. Over the last 15 years or so I have spent as much of my time as possible in the inner city, wherever I happened to live. Sometimes it was walking around downtown in hopes of sitting and talking with people as they sit on the street panhandling, or visiting the shelter or soup kitchen, or even taking in a local AA meeting. One thing I have noticed in regards to helping those in our cities who are vulnerable and living in poverty and addiction, is that money is cheap and time is expensive. For most of us it is much easier to donate money or material goods then it is to give of our time. Money and material goods are definitely in great need and are received with deep gratitude and I pray we would find ways to live more generously. I’m convicted of this as I lead The Joyful Project. Yes, we give portions of our proceeds to local charities and that’s great. But surely, we can go farther and become more generous with our time. We can offer our listening ears and share a little time with others. Those who are living in challenging situations need friends. People who will listen to their stories. Perhaps even become part of a few. They need people who will genuinely walk with them and be a friend. Something I believe we all need to think about. When are those moments when we should take the time to build friendships with those we care about? So often the social justice issues we are passionate about remain impersonal, a sea of faceless people. I admit I have been guilty of this at times in my life. People, individuals with faces and names, real human beings, need to be kept in the centre of our social justice causes. They need to be personal. If you were to ask me to list steps to fighting poverty and addiction I would put “be a friend” in the top spot. I’ve probably given out hundreds of sandwiches over the years to people who were hungry but in most cases I am certain they came more for the fellowship than the food.
Cal has taught me a great deal about what it means to love and serve others. I could always count on him to help me shovel snow from the walkway or help someone move furniture. Cal constantly revealed a truth I firmly believe about the poor. It is often those that have the least who give the most. This man shared all he had, especially his time. Many times I would drive him somewhere in the city where he would meet with some of his friends. Every time he got out of the van he would always lean back in, give me a fist bump and say “got any change? Haha just kidding. Love ya bro, see ya tomorrow!” My heart is broken today as I grieve the loss of a dear friend. My heart is also full as I celebrate a beautiful life and recall countless memories that put a smile on my face. What a blessing it is to have friends in this life. It feels good to give someone hungry a sandwich. It does good to offer someone your friendship. I know this for sure, the friendship always lasts longer. I’ll miss you Cal. I got your change. Love ya bro, see ya tomorrow.
/ Written by Founder - Andrew Benson