The West Coast is full of juxtaposition. For all of the lush green rain forest, there is plenty of harsh, grey concrete. For the still soothing sounds of ocean waters there is the drone of traffic congestion and road construction.
...for all of the bmw's and yachts floating in Coal Harbour there are shopping carts piled high with worldly possessions on East Hastings.
Our house is a relatively quick drive from downtown Vancouver - fifteen minutes straight down Hastings if the traffic is moving well. Anyone who's been to Vancouver knows that there are a few blocks on Hastings known as "The Downtown Eastside" which are notorious for its' population of the homeless and addicted. Anytime we drive downtown we drive straight through it. You can't avoid it. The faces and bodies displayed for all. And for this I am grateful.
As long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with The Downtown Eastside. If you know me at all, you know I'm a news and documentary junkie. Have been since I was a child. I think I was the only kid in elementary school who had to watch the headlines on "The National" before going to bed at night. I can remember being mesmerized by stories I'd see on CBC from Vancouver's streets - fascinated with the stories and lives each statistic represented. As the CBC motto states, "Canada Lives Here" - and the part of Canada that interested me throughout my life were those few blocks on Hastings where "Canada" lives.
And so, now I am forced to confront the reality of The Downtown Eastside regularly - not with the glass of a t.v. screen between me and the people I see, but the glass of my van window.
I made myself a promise when I moved here. A simple one. It went like this... when I drive through The Downtown Eastside I will not look away. I will not avoid the faces and the hollow eyes. I will not look down when someone staggers toward my van. I will look. I will see. I will acknowledge. Because it is the grim reality of life that I am focussing on. It is life worth looking at.
My promise went deeper. Beyond my eyes. Into the hearts of my three girls. I want them to see - to look - to acknowledge too. Each time we drive downtown we talk about the people we see strewn across the sidewalk on Hastings. It's critical for me. I desperately desire my girls to know that the world is so much bigger and more colorful than comfortable houses and 3 square meals a day. And so, the questions abound. Yesterday evening as we drove through, Sasha asked "Do you think I will ever be homeless and living here?" And we talked and said we didn't think so, but sometimes life can throw you harsh doses of tragedy that our biggest hopes and dreams for her can't compensate for.
The truth is - she could. And if that be her fate one day, I pray someone looks at her face and validates her existence as they drive by in their mini van.