Monday Musings….10 Dimes is All You Have

This week I had the privilege of going to Toronto for a meeting. I say privilege, because it is always an adventure to take the train and walk around Toronto - you never know what you will see or who you will meet. It cost me very little to take the train, but I came back much richer from the experience.

The trip started off before sunrise. Most people were enjoying their coffee and conversation with the passengers in the seats next to them, including the interesting group of men ahead of me. Within a short period of time, I noticed a few of them making several trips to the washroom, only to return to their seats sporting a familiar odor. As the train chugged down the tracks, the movement mimicked the rolling narrative and sense of perpetual apathy that is common for those whose addictions have stolen years from their life.

The first stop came and went, and shortly thereafter a young woman in her 20s realized she missed her exit. Saying she was frantic would be putting it mildly. She blamed everyone but herself, claiming no one had gotten off the train (there had been several), and that she hadn’t heard the call (which was definitely loud enough). Even though the train was at full speed, she demanded to be let off, not thinking for one moment that this was an impossible request. I thought about intervening to try to de-escalate the situation, but she was already surrounded by several employees. In the 10 minutes from the beginning of her tirade to her departure, she affected everyone in the entire car. No doubt we all felt her pain, some were even commenting on a similar experience, but nothing she said, no increase in volume, was going to stop that train until it reached its destination. When you don’t pay attention, you lose valuable time!

The train rolled into Union station, and knowing I had an hour to spare before my meeting, I decided to walk as far as I could in the underground PATH system towards my destination. Along my journey, I saw a dishevelled middle-aged man with his hands on his head, moaning and clearly grieved about some circumstance. I paused to ask what was wrong, but he was clearly in his own headspace not wanting any contact from the people around him. This was such a contrast to the myriads of young urban professional men in business suits who were rushing, I suppose, to get to their next meeting. I thought to myself, that is has to be tough to be an emerging adult living in Toronto. Their wardrobe alone would cost a fortune, not to mention their rent! A fortune – yes, a fortune to live in Toronto.

Those who were less fortunate crossed my path next. There was an elderly gentleman, grey hair flying, like Doc in “Back to the Future”, who was talking aloud about his dead fish. I encountered a woman with a service dog that was patiently trying to help her navigate through throngs of people. I rose to the street level, turned a corner, and there sat a weather-worn homeless man, cross-legged holding a sign. As I looked closer, it said something I was not expecting: “worthless”. Where was his value? There was so little time… I made a mental note to check in on him on my way back… but the clock was ticking…

So I crossed over to Nathan Phillips Square and behold a youth, not in a suit, but sporting a pair of bright red ice skates. It was evident to everyone around him that he had never learned to skate, or perhaps that no one had invested the time to teach him. He was on his own, on the ice, falling and failing, but never giving up.

I arrived at my meeting, where there were a lot of suits. The clock was ticking as we discussed the value of investing time and energy and resources into helping youth and young adults never give up. The meeting adjourned and we all departed.

I traced my steps back to Union Station, and sadly, I was not able to connect with the man who felt ‘worthless’. I found a comfortable spot and began to investigate my packed lunch. A man approached me and asked for money to buy some food. I willingly offered him my lunch, which he refused, and then he sauntered off, hoping cash would come from another bystander. The agent called for us to board the train and I grabbed my briefcase, noting to myself that on this whirlwind trip, I hadn’t spent a dime.

Just as I got comfortable in my faux recliner, an older woman approached me and motioned that she would be sitting next to me. Before long, we got to chatting about our lives and experiences. The sun had already set by this time, a perfect bookend to my day. But there was a very important Afterword.

My fellow train traveller taught me a very simple, yet powerful truth: that all of us are given 10 dimes to spend in this life. She went on to explain that each dime represents a decade, and once the decade is gone, the dime has been spent. So she informed me, matter-of-factly, that half of my dimes were gone, to which I agreed. Then she told me that I have to take off another 2 dimes because I will not have the stamina I have now at the end of my life. To which I laughed and remarked, “Well, that leaves me with only 3 dimes”! “So what are you going to do?” she smiled.

Hmmm…for someone who compartmentalizes and focuses on the here and now, to think of one, two, or three dimes is a challenge.

And then it came to me. The men on the train had spent more dimes than their years on a false sense of pleasure. The young woman was distracted and missed her true destination. The dishevelled middle-aged man had made costly decisions which threatened to short-change his life. The young men in suits were spending more dimes than they had, travelling at a trajectory towards exhaustion. The ‘unfortunate ones’ had dimes taken from them suffering loss of relationship, sight, and home. The struggling young man with promise, who represents all of the young people I work with, can never reclaim and retrain his almost 2 dimes of existence. And the man in the train station, who had an opportunity for a healthy change, but refused it, was duped into believing that money would satisfy his hunger.

We live in a busy world, driven by pleasure, distractions, poor decisions, ambition, circumstances inflicted upon us, inexperience, and greed. I encountered all of these people for a reason, I believe, to help me re-evaluate my worth and the value of time. Thank you Toronto, and especially Jan, for enriching my life! I know exactly how I’m going to spend those dimes!

This week's song is Nickleback's "If Today Was Your Last Day". Great lyrics to think about!

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