Eight Letters. Three words. One meaning. The tattoo on Deanne’s neck may look tough, but don’t let her exterior fool you. It is code for I Love You – a message she wants the world to see. Deanne and her roommate Tom are my newest friends from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and both offer some positive psychology to a neighbourhood that could definitively use more love.
This afternoon, Jenna and I headed to the Downtown Eastside to take someone for lunch. For me, the DTES of Vancouver is like therapy. It’s a bold reminder of everything I should be grateful for, a wake up to what matters, and it’s where time stops. There is no rush, no to-do list, and an appetite for authentic conversation.
Choosing a guest for lunch is always an interesting process – people always ask me how i choose – and my answer is always the same. I don’t. They choose me. So today, as Jenna and I walked the rainy streets of Vancouver and said hello to our city’s most marginalized citizens, it was Deanne who reached out to help us. Looking a bit out of place in our warm jackets and fall boots, Deanne noticed us as guests to her neighbourhood and asked if she could help: “Hey – you guys looking for something?”
“Yes – we are heading out for lunch and looking to see if anyone on the streets would like to join us”.
Thinking of others first, she turned to her two friends Mike and Tom and offered the meal to them. Mike was the first to accept. As we were about to head to the restaurant, Tom mentioned it was his birthday week so why not indulge on a nice lunch. After a second thought, Deanne decided she would join us too. Mike decided not to wait for a table and headed on his way, but Tom and Deanne were happy to be inside the warm restaurant and eager to share stories. They asked if I was Jenna’s mom. When she replied that I was her Vice Principal when she was in high school they both laughed. A principal? Oh gawd. I smiled and said, “Don’t worry – I’m not that type.” They laughed with a smile suggesting they did not have positive memories of school.
As we sat down to lunch Tom beamed. “I am the luckiest guy in the world.” He asked if he could explain his philosophy of life. Of course, I agreed.
“I am the luckiest guy in the world.
The world revolves around love. If you want love to grow, you have to give love.
Our happiness is a choice: It’s a decision we get to make.
I live in a corner suite at ground zero. How could I be happier?
I stand on the streets and get 600 hello’s a day. Where else can you find that?
I am 69, but I feel young so I stay young.
I really am the luckiest guy in the world. I get to wander these streets and help others realize they too have reasons to smile.”
Deanne and Tom banter back and forth with a friendly father / daughter like relationship. Roommates for the second time (returning after a breakup) in Vancouver’s SRO housing, they have much to disagree on: He likes rock, she prefers rap. He likes sports, she prefers the arts. He is 69. She is 47. What unites them is their optimism, hope and happiness amongst a dark neighbourhood. Both ex-convicts, they have experienced much, but now have a different philosophy on life. They now find happiness by helping others. Deanne raves about her three sons living in Alberta and Ontario – all with artistic talents. Tom speaks fondly of his sister who is coming to visit from her small interior BC town. He may go back and stay with her for a few weeks. He may even stay for Christmas. But the town only has one street, one traffic light and no one lining the roads to offer his daily 600 hello’s.
The kindness and community of the Downtown Eastside is where these two find what we are all looking for: a place to love, a place to be loved and a place to call home.