If there is anything that can bring out the crankiness in someone, it’s the repetitive words of a weatherperson on a Canadian Prairie winter morning with the identical forecast as the previous five days.
“And we’ll have sunny skies today, with a high of -30 celsius; winds will be out of the North/Northwest at 30 kilometers per hour. Windchill advisory is in effect, making it feel like -45 celsius; exposed skin can freeze in less than one minute. Bundle up, folks; after all, it’s Winnipeg in the winter!”
Once again I needed to wear ten layers of clothing, two hats, a pair of mitts (with gloves over top), scarves so intertwined that I had lost count as to how many I was actually wearing.
Ah, yes, three pairs of socks.
My feet felt bound; I wondered if this was how the tradition of foot binding began; was it all in the name of preventing arctic frosted feet?
I remember feeling overwhelmingly frustrated that day; bitter cold can elicit a bitter mood, and I wasn’t about to make any effort to feel any different about it.
I made my own path through the newly-fallen snow; how could it have possibly snowed last night? I had heard when it’s ‘THAT’ cold, it won’t snow.
Hhhmmmppph, well there goes that prairie legend heaped onto a snowdrift! The snow made a crunching sound as each boot step brought me closer to the bus shelter.
My workday seemed to drag on and on; I looked out the window and instantly remembered the harsh cold that awaited me at the end of the day. As 4:00 p.m. approached, I hesitated to ‘gear-up’ and get going, as it were. The bus was late. How could I stand outside any longer, I asked myself, when suddenly I heard someone singing.
How anyone could muster up any more than a sneeze or cough in this weather was beyond me. I followed the voice a short way down the block. There he was; the music man, his body pressed up tightly against a storefront wall, knees pulled up towards his chest.
Not wearing gloves, his cracked and weather-beaten fingers strummed a guitar while he sang the Neil Young tune, “Heart of Gold”…
I’ve been to Hollywood
I’ve been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean
for a heart of gold
I’ve been in my mind,
it’s such a fine line
That keeps me searching
for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.
Neil Young is a well-known Canadian musician, who lived in Winnipeg for many years. As I stood listening to this dear soul pour his heart out with his rendition of, “Heart of Gold”, my bus arrived. And left.
I couldn’t leave this man’s presence until I heard the entire song.
He didn’t ask for money. He wasn’t reaching out to others for a handout of sorts. He just wanted to stay warm, and did so by embracing the air with his soulful sounds.
I reached into my pocket, only to find a couple of bus tickets and a two dollar coin. When his melody was complete, I purposefully went up to him; the sun shone directly into his face as he tried to look up to see who was approaching with such fervor.
I touched his hand, pressing the coin into his palm, closing his fingers around it so it wouldn’t fall onto the frozen ground.
Looking directly at his kind and compassionate face I managed to utter the words, “Now you stay safe!”
He replied with a gentle smile, “Thank you, sweetheart.”
I turned away from him as quickly as I could so as not to reveal the stream of tears rolling down my frost covered cheeks.
I walked and walked, somehow unaware of the bitter and painful cold permeating my entire body. I reached a bus stop, and in a matter of minutes I was on a bus headed to my comfortable, warm home.
I changed that day. Through his blissful energy and joy of singing, this dear man gave me a gift I could never repay.
He sang to fill the hearts of those walking by, unaware of him.
He sang to bring warmth to his surroundings plagued by bitterly cold temperatures.
His presence was filled with a wealth of appreciation for the shelter he found for that moment, the ability to sing a song about finding a heart of gold, and for simply, ‘being’.
I often think of that gentle soul, and wonder if he’s safe, happy, and did he eventually find his heart of gold.
On a frightfully cold winter’s day, he gave me the precious gift of kindness more valuable and treasured than these words can convey.
Today’s Guest Writer is Cher Garman.
Cher is a Canadian living in Chicago, Illinois. As an aspiring writer, Cher loves to observe her world with an open mind, kindness, and compassion. She often finds herself using humor to describe a situation, which can lend itself to a better understanding of one another. Cher is passionate about helping others, and regularly volunteers assisting blind and low-vision individuals. She loves to travel, adores all kinds of live theater, and finds an open ear (or two) for music that invokes feelings of happiness. Cher has a blog entitled, “The Chicago Files” where she writes about her reflections as a, “Chicago Canadian”.
You can contact Cher and/or ‘follow’ her at https://twitter.com/seaangel4444