Outside my office window is a small green courtyard. The warm spring air has just begun to draw a few souls out to the four circled benches. A woman in her eighties wearing a kerchief is sitting on a bench warmed in the sun. There is another woman, also in her eighties wearing a kerchief, carrying a flower who slowly walks up to the seated lady. Upon meeting, the lady who is standing gives the flower to the woman sitting down. After receiving the flower she looks at it for a moment and slowly lifts it to her nose and smells it. She then proceeds to gently pat the bench with her hand. The standing woman sits down and they begin to talk. About twenty minutes later they walk off together.
I am on bus #71 heading to Seven Oaks Hospital for a visit. With my head down in a book I hear a raised voice,
- Stop staring
Another voice calls back
- I can look wherever I want
It is a young indigenous woman probably still a teenager confronting a middle-aged white man wearing sunglasses. The confrontation continues.
- No you can’t look wherever you want. Stop starting at me.
- You’re crazy
- Don’t make me sound like I’m wrong. You’re the one staring, you’re creeping out my cousin (sitting next to her).
- What? I can’t look out a window?
- No, you can’t look out my window.
This back and forth goes on for a little while. Until the man finally stops responding. The woman begins talking with her friend saying things like how tired she is of being treated this way (of how aboriginals are still treated this way). She is sick of it. I have so many thoughts going through my head. She is resolute. Unyielding. I am proud of her. I respect her. I want to speak words of affirmation but what would that mean come from a white dude? She doesn’t need me, she doesn’t need my affirmation to know what she was doing was right. But still wouldn’t it just be good to affirm someone . . .
As I am performing my ethical dialectics a black woman, probably in her 50s, stands up and goes over to the young woman. You can see the energy pulsate in her body. She puts her hand on the woman’s shoulder and whispers in her ear. I can’t make it out. I think I hear the phrase ‘stand up’. From all that I can tell she is strongly affirming what the young woman did.
I was piecing this all together on the fly. I was following the script and in that time I had already laid it out its ending. Surely there should be a moment of meaningful acknowledgement; a recognition of their solidarity and support. But no. In respond to whatever was said to her the young woman replied in a deadpan, almost sarcastic voice OK.
This disrupted my thoughts. All I could do was speculate. Why was she unable to receive sheer affirmation? Was it too vulnerable? Did she actually not care? She did say she was sick. Sick of being treated like an object for manipulation. How could you receive affirmation from a stranger when the outside world, your environment, made you sick? And then I thought of the middle aged woman. What had this evoked in her? I didn’t want to think of it. I could see it viscerally in how she held herself next to the woman. Whatever was happening there it was powerful but it was not my script.
I arrive at Seven Oaks Hospital. I have been there often enough now that it does not take me too long to find patients, as the building is cleared modeled after some medieval conception of hell. I need to gently wake up the elderly woman lying in bed. I don’t really know what is wrong with her. I don’t think she has family in church. She can’t really talk because she is a little confused and does not have her dentures in. There is some recognition, some connection. I ask if I can pray for her. She nods. I do.
She looks into my eyes. We are leaning fairly close together now after the prayer. She keeps looking into my eyes. She raises her hand and lays it against my cheek. Her hand is unexpectedly and overwhelmingly soft, like innocence. She holds it there for a moment and then brings it back down. We say goodbye and I leave.
These are the scenes. I would like to weave them into something more but they have already defied my discourse. They strike me as foreign. They do not reflect my form. My postures rarely take time for simple deliberate gestures. My expressions are weak introducing too much nuance and so dance around the enemy, lending him strength. My acts are not unnervingly gentle.