God forgive me, but I can’t even remember her name. Staring back through the mists of time, I can barely remember the pain in her eyes. More than three decades have passed since I lived and worked in Vancouver’s east end. I was young, young and foolish, young and carefree, young and adventurous, young and callous. In my early twenties, I was still trying to figure out who I was. I was in no condition to understand who she was. How could I know? None of us knew.
I knew Jesus back then. Some might even say that I was obsessed with knowing Jesus. I went to church every Sunday and I hung out with church people. I knew the Father well back then. I was young, the world was my oyster, my future stretched out before me. I knew that my work in the travel industry was only temporary; just a means to an end, a way to make money so that I could spend it enjoying life. At the time, I was working in a pretty unglamorous part of the wholesale travel industry packaging holidays, to Mexico and Hawaii. We used to joke that it wasn’t brain surgery, just bums on seats, just filling every plane our company chartered with warm bodies so that they could get away from Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-soaked winter; bums on seats, anybody could do the job; day in day out filling airplanes, it was positively mind-numbing work.
The company I worked for occupied an entire three-story office building on the northern edge of Vancouver’s East-End. The East-End of Vancouver is still one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Back then, the gentrification of the East-End that Expo 86 and then the 2010 Olympics brought, couldn’t even be imagined. Good upstanding middle-class people avoided the poverty of the East-end, unless of course they were young like me, and then the depravity of the neighbourhood was kind of a badge of honour; as we braved the streets on our way to dance the night away in the clubs that sprang up on the edge of the East-End were rents were cheep and cops had so much more to worry about than the kind of mischief that we got into. So, I lived and worked in the East-End and saved my money for the life that stretched out in front of me.
I wish I could remember her name. I’m ashamed to confess that I cannot remember her name. But the pain in her eyes, those dark mournful eyes that I will never forget. I’d warned her more than once. It was against the rules. She was hired to clean our offices. She was to go about her work and make sure that she had the place spick-and span ready for us when we arrived in the morning and then she would be on her way. But time and time again, I’d find her lingering, long past the time when she should have left; lingering and talking on the telephone; she was the cleaner, she had no business using the phones. I was the newly minted supervisor of the reservations department; it was to me that the staff came to complain about the untidy conditions in the staff room. If she spent as much time doing her job as she did sneaking around making phone calls, we wouldn’t have to put up with the unwashed mugs in the sink. I warned her over and over again, but she just wouldn’t listen. My boss told me to fire her; but I was young and I’d never fired anyone before, besides wouldn’t Jesus want me to give her just one more chance; God forgive me I thought I could save her. Oh don’t worry, I wasn’t planning to save her for Jesus or anything as crass as that, oh no, I was going to save her from herself. I was going to redeem her from her lazy self and see to it that she kept her job. God forgive me, I did not know what I was doing. Continue reading