I’m hanging out at Perkins, waiting for 6:30. A friend phoned this morning, asking me to take her to the doctor and, because Tom and I are going for marriage counselling in the early evening, I figured I may as well stay out for the afternoon. I wanted to go for a walk this morning but chose instead to nap to get me through the long day (having gotten up too early); so as I was driving away from the doctor’s I was thinking of where to go.
The Forks is a fun place to walk and have lunch but as I turned onto Main Street I realised I had the perfect opportunity to do what I’ve been wanting but never do—walk in my church neighbourhood. I was right there! Finding a parking spot, I set out at a brisk clip. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I wouldn’t be walking too long at that speed and slowed my pace.
It’s a beautiful day—clear, sunny skies and feeling warmer than the -39F with wind chill given by Environment Canada—and the walk was good. As I walked, I prayed. During daylight hours, the neighbourhood looks much more respectable than in the dark—people going about their daily business waiting for the bus, going to the doctor, shopping in the stores—but it is a community of great need, pain and low-budget efforts to relieve that pain. “God! Come to this place! Take away the spiritual darkness and bless the good that happens here!”
Back in the 1800s, immigrants arrived in Winnipeg via the Canadian Pacific Railway. Those with money and/or British roots settled to the south of the tracks but those from places like Poland, the Ukraine, and Germany settled to the north. Winnipeg remains loosely divided along those lines—the universities, professionals, white-colour workers to the south and the trucking companies, trades people and blue-collar folk to the north.
Eighty or ninety years ago, the North End was populated by little shops, synagogues and onion-domed eastern churches tucked away in unexpected places. A strong work-ethic was the engine that drove those who lived here. You can still find buildings that testify to this time—the grocery store selling fresh produce I don't know the names of and other goods from Eastern Europe, the printing press that continues to publish a Ukrainian-language newspaper, a tourist agency experienced with trips to Warsaw, Kiev and Minsk.
In recent decades, however, there has been a new kind of immigrant to the area—aboriginals from the First Nation reserves, hoping for a better life in the city but, finding the lie, who lack the money, motivation or other reasons to return home. These are the disenfranchised, the children of the Indian residential schools who grew up abused by school staff; language and culture stolen from them and, after generations of this, left with despair, inner turmoil, grief and little concept of how to “do” family.
They are the flotsam that south Winnipeg and the suburban communities ignore or deride. It is their daughters who stand on the streets, even at forty below, waiting for the johns in their minivans, heavy trucks or light sports cars to stop and do business and their sons who join the gangs that pimp the girls, stagger in the streets from too much drink and stab or shoot each other for reasons as trivial as not being given the cigarette they ask for. It is their little girls on their way to school who are propositioned, their young woman who vanish without trace or who struggle to raise their children in God-fearing ways in a culture gone awry. It is a neighbourhood of desperation and hopelessness unmasked by a lack of money the more affluent use to bury and hide many of the same problems. It is an area that my church intentionally chose as home and that I’ve come to love.
The brightness of the day and the crispness of the air make these problems less noticeable but they’re impossible to hide and I prayed for the people and businesses I passed. After I crossed Main St. for the walk back to my car, my body began to complain. First it was my calves and then my lower back. Ugh! Would I make it back? The distance wasn’t far but my long season of depression has left me so unfit even the shortest distances and simplest tasks can be monumental.
I was beginning to overheat. My extra insulation demands that I wear fewer layers in the cold than most people but even my scarf and the sweater replacing my coat made me too warm. Perhaps I looked like I fit in better as I stopped every quarter of a block to ease the sore muscles (or was the pain pinched nerves?), leaning against the store fronts until I was able to move on again. The walk was good but I was grateful to finally reach the car so I could sit.
As I considered where to have lunch and hang out for the afternoon, it occurred to me that a place near where we’ll go for marriage counselling would be best. A Perkins is there and maybe they’d be able to give me a table near an outlet for my computer by one of their bright windows. If not, I could drive on to a coffee shop I enjoy with a woodsy, outdoors feel, large fireplace, plenty of power outlets and the Internet. Perkins had the perfect table for me and I’m enjoying the silent emptiness of a late Tuesday afternoon.
I’m tired but not debilitatingly. So long as the waitress keeps filling my teapot, this is a nice place to be and I’m grateful that I have access to places like this. Please pray for those who don’t.