Warren is dead. He is out of misery and no longer has to panhandle, get beat up, or suffer through his horrible epileptic fits. Warren is gone.
My colleagues and I were surprised Warren lasted so long on the streets, and when he passed away last Halloween, we quietly shared the sentiment "perhaps this is good; maybe Warren has found peace."
Warren, about 45, lived near my organization's -- Ve'ahavta's -- former offices at Yonge and Eglinton. He was on the streets for a long time and became a straggly impish, rascally elfin of a man. In some ways Warren was what we expect homeless people to be -- disheveled and unaware. In other ways, he was like you and me.
What happened in Warren's world? It's difficult to say other than the fact he drank, had epilepsy and was appreciated by most of the locals, businesspeople and many of the police and EMS. His baseball hat sat starkly in the middle of the walkway and seemed to jingle with enough coins for a meal -- a solid measurable for investor confidence in a panhandler.
(Warren was entrepreneurial. The word on the street was that he stashed cash. Sometimes this effusive gentle man complained that the hospitals were cheap, not providing him tokens to get home -- an underground parking lot.)
Warren loved his mother and would visit her on weekends. I was always perturbed though at why a mother wouldn't take in her son. I imagined she was likely worse off than he was. One winter morning he told me his mother had died. A few months later he said he had been with his mother, at her place, the night before. (A long time ago, I stopped asking about the inconsistencies in street people's stories.)
Warren used to be a manager of a Sporting Life. He would walk the floors of this busy and upbeat store no doubt encouraging staff to educate themselves on the various sweat suit weaves. Then, later on, after the fits took over, we'd frequently find Warren sitting on the pavement with a gash to his forehead, or deep cuts on his fingers. These two disparate images were challenging.
(Warren would tell us that there were times when "regular" folk would walk by him and hit him just like that. He explained that they seemed to resent him for being homeless. He figured he must have made them feel vulnerable.)
I wondered what Warren brought to our world; what was his journey all about?
Warren needed community and found it on the streets. Just like your community is in your neighborhood or the church, his was on the pavement, huddled together with other people struggling to stay alive.
He taught me that my universe is contained, just like his was and that in some ways we are all alone in our existence. He was the "stranger" to us, an individual we had to care for.
There was something panjandrum, self-important about Warren, and despite the beatings, the cold, the heat, alcoholism, epileptic fits, loneliness and disappointment, he never lost a twinkle in his eye. He was present when we'd speak and kept his playful personality intact until the end. He smiled a lot. He was a bit of a rascal too.
Now Warren is being eulogized in Huffington Post, unlike another homeless person who might have died alone and unknown, last night somewhere in Toronto.
RIP Warren. Thank you for coming by.
"Love the stranger." (Deuteronomy 10:19)
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