The sign on the right says it all: "It's cold out here." Caught in a fluctuating polar vortex, Ray of Hope's "Coldest Night of the Year" walk to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless and to raise funds to help them, was held on a bitterly cold night in February in southwestern Ontario. Perhaps not the coldest night of the year in our region, but close.
Yet, out of the dark they came. First in a trickle. The fastest walkers. Then more and more came. Identified by their Nordic touques. After the first arrivvees had warmed up, turned around and were heading back, they became a flood going in both directions. People arriving. People leaving. One group eager to get to the halfway point. The other group - well - I didn't talk to any of them so I don't really know how they were feeling as they faced the same walking distance in the same cold on the same frozen sidewalk back to where they started out from. Yet, as they walked out of the halfway point on their way back, they were still smiling. Still pumped up. Eager.
The ones I saw were the hardiest ones. The ones who had signed up for the 10 km walk. I figured these intrepid souls would all be college/university students. But they weren't.
They came in all ages, sizes, shapes, etc. including children with their parents, couples, even a few people with grey hair peaking out of their touques. It was definitely, not a one-size-fits-all thing.
It was a compassion thing though. An empathy thing. A way of saying "I care" to those who are caught in the vice of homelessness.
They were all out for one common purpose. To raise awareness (and funds) for the plight of the homeless in our area.
I'm sure that most of them could have found a warmer - and more fun - way to spend a Saturday night. With friends, family, watching TV, etc. Yet, they chose to put on their cold weather gear and come out and walk the length of King Street through downtown Kitchener and uptown Waterloo - and back again.
By the time, they got to where I was standing, tripod firmly entrenched in the middle of the sidewalk, they were still smiling. They were also ready for that promised rest break which signified the end of the first part of the walk. Coffee. A warm place to shelter and mingle with others. Treats.
As they passed me, the most often asked question was: "Where's the rest stop?" i.e. where's the coffee? where's the washroom, where's the warmth?
The other comment I heard often was "Thank you".
Why were they thanking me? They were doing all the work. Oops ... all the walking. They were the ones who had worked hard to find people to sponsor them for this walk.
Yet they were thanking me. Because I too was giving up something. I was giving up my Saturday night to make them visible. To record for posterity this walk To give a voice to the voiceless, a face to the faceless. Just like they were.
Homeless people are marginalized - just like me. We all have assumptions about them. About how they became homeless. We judge them.
Yet ... as I stood out in the middle of the sidewalk photographing the stream of people walking past, I was constantly reminded of one phrase: "there but for the grace of God go I."