I was pacing the streets of the Byward Market when the one thing I had least expected happened. I was panicking, trying to figure out which stranger to approach first and what I would say to convince this person to let me into their soul. Nobody shared eye contact with me until my wandering eyes fixed on Eugene. It was like he had been waiting for me. As soon as I looked his direction he said, "Hello, my dear!" And, like that, I had my stranger.
I assumed he was homeless by the bowl of change sitting on the tray of his wheelchair. He was missing half of his teeth, the other half were crowned with silver and gold. He had a dirty pitcher, only a quarter full, with a long straw that could reach to his mouth. His hands were swollen and bound by white cloth that had blood on some parts. His swollen hands rested on an over-used white facecloth and he had a long wooden stick that he would use to press buttons or to reposition his facecloth with his mouth. His sweatpants had holes in them, but overall he was clean. When I stopped to talk to him, every passing face turned to look as if they were uncomfortable for me. I felt fine; he was harmless.
I asked him, "What's one thing you wish you would have known when you were younger?”
"I don't know where to start," he said in a thick Romanian accent, soft and quiet. He paused and sighed. I could tell whatever he was about to say weighed on him. "You can have all the money in the world, you can be smart, successful, whatever you want to be; but the most important thing to cherish is the ability to be held. I just wish to be held." He spoke as if he could not remember the last time he received a hug, as if he had been bound to his metal exterior from birth. I was instantly overwhelmed with loneliness for him.
He spoke of the friends he had trusted, only to be taken advantage of in the end, how he was incapable of doing anything about it. "I can't even open a door for myself, how can I stand up for myself?" I wanted to give advice. Instead, I listened; something I don't think anyone has done for him in a long time.
I was about to pull money from my pocket, to thank him for giving his time, when he surprised me again. He asked for my help to open the door to his apartment building right down the street. It was an all-glass building; every room with its own balcony. It was then when I realized that Eugene spends his days in a world that perceives him as homeless.
In 30 minutes, Eugene flipped my perspective on the way I perceive people, and taught me to cherish even the unwanted hugs I receive.
Photo Credit: Olivia Vanderwal
Olivia Vanderwal is a wanderlust enthusiast, a writer of delicate words, a player of all things acoustic, and a singer in and out of the shower, determined to follow a career in the writing industry. She hopes to dive into scriptwriting for television, while dipping her toes in the songwriting business and also juggling a novel of her own one day. Keep her in your prayers.