by Don Belo
It was an extremely cold winter day in Ontario, Canada, in February 1989. I had just bought a new car, however due to snow and icy conditions I refused to drive it on this day. I used public transportation for a date with a gal I’d been seeing a few months.
We had just finished watching a movie, “Remains of the Day” starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. After leaving the theatre, the first open eatery we came across was a burger joint. We entered and ordered coffee and warm apple pie.
We sat down and across from us, already seated, was a homeless man with all of his belongings close to him, huddling tight to his heavy jacket. He was in his late 50s or early 60s, with the obvious signs of spending years sleeping and living on the streets adding years to his appearance. His face was the colour towards the extreme part of red, bordering on purple.
He obviously had come inside to warm up. He ignored the other patrons, sitting silently cutting an apple into thin slices with a plastic knife onto a tray in front of him. Another man entered the restaurant, obviously in a similar predicament in life to the man before us, and also seeking shelter from the -20C outside.
Both men wore tattered overcoats that were obviously not purchased by them due to being over-sized for their frames. They were both smokers as their hands had that unhealthy leathery look about them, with yellow stains at the fingertips.
The gentleman seated in front of us nodded in recognition to the man who had just entered, who returned the gesture, they clearly knew each other. The first man didn’t say a word, yet with a calm wave of his hand offered his sliced apple to his friend.
They shared the apple, however not together; the man who was the recipient took a few slices from the tray and seated himself a few tables away, while the man who offered the apple remained seated near us.
My girlfriend looked at me and with tears in her eyes said, “That is beautiful.”
I can’t explain the feelings of emotion that this evoked in me at the time — and still does to this day, 22 years later. My girlfriend of that time is my wife now, and this story is still something my wife or I bring up from time to time.
I’ve told this true story to many people over the years. Often, though I see they’re touched by it, I don’t think they truly appreciate that, in a calm, wordless way, this older homeless soul showed us what a hero really is.
The wave of his hand radiated the regal dignity of a king, because it demonstrated the true meaning of sacrifice for another. His gesture said, “I have little or next to nothing, but if what I have benefits you in any way, consider it yours.”