I wasn’t 20 steps into our downtown library, when a man called me by name.
"Stephanie! Do you remember me?"
He was a big man. He had long, curly hair that almost covered his eyes. He had a bushy, unkempt beard. I was certain I’d never met him before. And then he said his name.
Oh, Jim. I did remember Jim. Suddenly the memories came like a landslide. He was the boy in grade school who had a very tough time. Perhaps you had a ‘Jim’ in your school. My Jim had to go through daily humiliation — not only inflicted by the students, but by our Grade 3 teacher, too.
You see, Jim was dirty. Which was hardly the fault of an eight-year-old boy — one can only imagine what his home life was like. Every day, when Jim came to school his first task was to show both sides of his hands to the teacher. And if they were dirty (which they were — every day), she would hand him a bar of soap that she kept in her desk just for him. Off he would go to the washroom, then come back and show his hands again to see if he had passed the first ‘test’ of the day.
My eight-year-old self felt so horrified for him, in some way knowing something was wrong but not knowing what nor how to handle it.
I remember Jim at the sock hop, going from girl to girl, asking them to dance. Despite hearing no after no, he kept on, undeterred. When I was next in line, I remember all these conflicting feelings running through my head. I knew what I should do and I knew what I wanted to do.
We danced. But all the while I remember wondering what all the other girls were thinking.
At the library, Jim was quite animated. He knew about me, what I was doing and who I married. He said he read about me in the paper — so I thought maybe it was The Lance and that we lived in the same part of town.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
His answer shocked me.
"The Salvation Army on Higgins," he said. "I’ve been struggling with depression but I’m getting better."
He said this not with sadness but with pride and hope in his voice. We chatted for a few more minutes until a lady in the library shushed us. And we parted.
Later, as I sat in the class I had come to the library for, I realized that I did not do the very thing that I teach my clients to do. I did not ask "what’s important now."
Surely if I had asked myself that question, I would have realized that sitting down with Jim and buying him a coffee would have been so much more valuable. I was really disappointed with myself.
The next day, I phoned the Salvation Army. While they won’t tell you if a person is staying there, they will leave a message. I left my name and number and Jim called back quickly.
I told him I’d be happy to buy him a coffee and we made a plan. I went the to coffee shop and I waited. And waited. And waited.
Jim didn’t show up. Jim didn’t call. And that’s the end of the story.
But I don’t want it to be that end of the story. I want to tell Jim how sorry I am that he went through all that humiliation in school, I want to say that I’m sorry that I wasn’t nicer, that I didn’t buy him a coffee when we met at the library.
Everyone knows a Jim. What do you call yours?