John the Firefighter – 6 am
I am ready to start my usual morning quest for tea. So naturally, with no money in my pocket, I started walking towards McDonald’s on Granville Street. It was time to use the gift certificate the Transit Police gave me the other night. Once I arrived, I asked for a hot cup of water. They slapped me with a 28 cent charge for it. I find it ridiculous to be charged that much for a hot cup of water and when I sat down, the people sitting across from me felt the same way.
I overheard their conversation. They were talking about how they prefer spending a night in jail rather than spending the night on the streets, during really cold days. Not only is it warmer in jail, but they also feed you. The next topic of conversation was the price of hot water. One of them asked the group “how much more greedy can a corporation get?” I thought myself the same thing while I was sipping on my 28 cent cup of hot water.
At this time of day, McDonald’s is a great place to meet interesting people and to stay warm. This one is open 24 hours, which is why many of us are gathered here. Others may be here to crash down from their high. It goes without saying that the mood in this restaurant was very somber. This was my cue to hand out some food the Union Gospel Mission gave me yesterday.
I walked up to each person and handed out pastry and bread. That put a temporary smile on some of these faces. When I sat back down, I noticed a man mumbling to himself while playing with his own hair. He seemed to be in pain. I initiated the conversation without realizing that this would turn into my most powerful story yet.
I asked “how are you doing, are you alright?” He pointed at his foot. I am not a doctor, but I can safely say that it did not look healthy. His foot was swollen and purple. The least I could do is give him a pair of socks and that is exactly what I did. He gladly accepted my offer. I wanted to learn more from him, so I asked what his story was. His life changed dramatically a few years ago.
John was a firefighter when one day he noticed a burning house. I am not sure if he was on or off duty at this point. He told me help was on its way, but the screams that came from within the house, forced him to act quickly. For a person in an emergency every second seems like a lifetime. I cannot even imagine how it would feel to be trapped inside a burning house. Without hesitation, John stormed the fiery inferno to rescue an elderly woman trapped inside her own home. Once he reached her room, she was laying there unconscious.
While he was carrying her out the building collapsed and trapped his leg. From this point onwards, his memory faded. When he regained consciousness, a giant metal object was pushing up against his skin. That was the pain he was feeling today. The fire department gave him a puny settlement of $180,000 for his endured pain, but the money was not nearly enough for him. The costs of the three operations he had to go through were draining his funds. On top of that, a fourth operation was on its way. To put it simply, he has a very tough life to live.
Luckily it was not all bitter for him. The lady whom he saved still bakes him cookies and makes him sandwiches. She appreciated his efforts. I assume that any human being with the right mind would be grateful for such a brave act. It is nice to see that there was an element of love and care still nourishing his body and soul.
When I gave John a pair of socks, he decided to put them on after showing me his bruised ankle. Not long after, an employee from McDonald’s went up to John and said “you’ll have to put on your shoes and socks before I call the police. One of our customers complained about you already”. John fully complied with his orders, but it wasn’t good enough for the clerk. Without giving John a chance to put on his shoes and socks he said, “I am calling the cops”. So he started to dial his phone.
This point will always remain in my memory. John looked at me and said “see what I have to deal with?” I could not stand there watching this injustice unfold before my eyes. I stood up and asked the clerk if he knew why this man was here right now. The reply I got from the clerk was that he is poor and can’t afford to be anywhere else.
I was completely appalled and shocked by the way John was being treated. So I repeated John’s story to the clerk and followed up saying that “John did not judge the person who was in the burning house. He did not care who was living in that building, he just wanted to save a life. You could have been the one trapped in that building and this is how you treat him?” I wasn’t sure if I should angry or sad, but the homeless here in Vancouver are definitely misunderstood quite frequently. This was a perfect example of it. Nobody seems to know their story and nobody cared to ask, as if they weren’t human beings anymore. John left McDonald’s and got on the bus. I packed up my stuff and left as well.