I want to talk about an eccentric stranger I met during a particularly challenging time in my life. While I only knew him briefly, the words he said to me, the kindness he showed me, had a profound impact on my life. I still think about him today.
I met Jim on my way back from Winnipeg. I was not well. I had spent a week in Winnipeg, which was supposed to be my grand venture into the real world after graduation. It ended up being a disaster because I did not have the foresight to make any sort of real plan. The whole week I was there, I ate a bag of grapes, a couple peanut butter sandwiches, and a cucumber. I didn’t know how to cook or even grocery shop. I was tired and emotionally drained. While I was, for the most part, too scared to leave my hostel, there were a few days that I tried to explore the city. Each time I ended up getting lost and walking around for hours. So when I finally admitted defeat and bought a bus ticket back home, I was feeling pretty low. That’s when I met Jim.
I had been sitting in the bus terminal for a few hours when a little old man walked in, wheeling behind him a small suitcase. I noticed him right away because he was singing a song loud enough for the whole room to hear. Don’t know if it’s a real song, but the gist of it is that Toronto is the greatest city in the world. I don’t agree with that statement but Jim certainly did. I will always remember how friendly he was. At first, I kept my distance and watched from afar. It seemed so bizarre that a man would treat everyone around him as if they were his close personal friends. Over the course of my trip back, I got to know Jim a little better.
We didn’t speak until the bus stopped in Thunder Bay. Everyone piled off the Greyhound bus and into the terminal so they could use the restroom or get something to eat. Jim went into the bathroom to shave. When he came out, her took a seat in the lobby a few feet away from me and he started chatting with the other people around. I can’t quite recall the ins and outs of what he was saying, but it had to do with Jesus. He was preaching the good word. As a devout Christian, Jim believed very passionately that if you followed the teachings of Jesus then you would lead a good life. And according to Jim, Jesus only preached two rules: love God and love your neighbour.
Even though I wasn’t Christian, I liked what he was saying. So I decided to engage. I said, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m actually reading The Bible right now.” And I pulled out a copy of the King James Bible from my bag. And the strangest thing happened. He started crying. And he hugged me. And said, “God bless you,” over and over again. To this day I don’t know what I did to provoke that reaction in him. I guessed it was because up until then, everyone had been more or less ignoring him.
From that point on, every time Jim passed me on the bus he said “God bless you.” When we stopped in Sudbury, it was about midnight. I just planned on waiting in the lobby, but Jim insisted that I accompany him and another stranger he had befriended to McDonald’s so he could buy me a meal. He wanted to repay me for what I did for him. I didn’t want him to feel obligated to do that, so I tried to refuse. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
So with Jim leading the way, we walked down the main drag of Sudbury and tried to go to McDonald’s. Only the drive through was open and despite Jim’s protests, they wouldn’t let us walk through it. So Jim dragged us a bit further down the street to Harvey’s. And even though it was clearly closed, he pounded on the door until the manager came out. I don’t know what he said to the manager, but he somehow convinced him to let us in and order food. While he was having that conversation, I turned to the other stranger next to me – a Yugoslavian man in his forties – and said, “How do you know him?” And the man shrugged and said, “I don’t. He just told me to come with him.”
I tried to ask for just a veggie burger, but Jim insisted that I get a full meal with fries and a pop. The three of us sat down at a table and talked. Jim told me that he had been watching me, and knew that I wasn’t eating very well. He told me about his wife and his home back in Toronto. He also invited me to come to his church if I ever needed food or shelter.
When the bus got into Toronto, they dropped Jim off on a street corner. As the bus pulled away, I could see him standing there, waving at me until eventually he vanished from sight. For a long time, I wondered if that encounter actually happened. It seemed so surreal, so confusing. But the one day I stumbled upon a Youtube video of a crazy old man ranting about Toronto. And it was Jim.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XpIJTewu4Q.