Local homeless man passes kind gestures onto strangers

There seems to be a common theme in downtown Calgary—every person is always in a rush and busy on their cell phones. It seems no one takes the time to stop and appreciate their surroundings, show gratitude or appreciation. They are all in sync as they speed walk in the same direction, almost as if it were a colony of ants strategically placed in line, walking one by one.

So what happens when I step back from my robotic, colourless routine and take a moment to capture my surroundings mentally? I notice trends, familiar faces and the beauty of humanity. Every Monday and Thursday I walk past a panhandler who sits on the sidewalk corner of 4th Street and 5th Avenue S.W. His clothes are tattered and worn. His winter jacket looks like it is from an ’80s movie.

His hair is grey, thin and looks comparable in texture to the hair from a child’s troll doll. His beard is untamed and the colour of the grey clouds that are lingering overhead. I notice that he has bags under his eyes, highlighted by each wrinkle on his forehead, eyes and his mouth. I assume that the bags represent the stress of his life and current situation.

At his feet lays a grey worn out hat that matches the rest of his rugged demeanor. A bag and backpack filled with his belongings accompany him on the street corner.

When the street prohibits pedestrians from crossing the road, this timeworn panhandler named Richard Rajotte, smiles and strikes up a conversation with one of the pedestrians waiting for the light to turn. As I keep space between Rajotte and myself I can only faintly hear him mention words like philosophy, theory and happiness.

The woman he is exchanging words with adds change to his hat as a kind donation for their pleasant conversation. He responds with a warm smile and expresses that he hopes that she will have a wonderful evening.

“Kindness is when people just smile as they walk by. If I can put a smile on someone’s face on a daily basis that’s what’s important to me,” says Rajotte.

This man, who looks to have some sort of troubled past didn’t ask for money, he simply had a conversation and wished the woman well. The shocking aspect is this woman took the time from her busy, routine driven life to stand at the stoplight and chat with Rajotte.

“Whether people donate money or not, what is important is that they smile and acknowledge you and take the time to talk with you because that’s one of the plights of people who are on the street, it’s that people tend to make you invisible and it is very difficult,” says Rajotte.

Witnessing communication between two people from two different worlds inspired me and began my internal brainstorming of how can I make a difference. I want to make a difference by incorporating all of the multitasking aspects of my life that I value and change someone’s day for the better.

Being a student doesn’t leave my pockets full of cash so I figured start small and pay it forward. The day leading up to Christmas Eve was the day that I would share kindness with a stranger in the hopes of making their day happier.

The air was becoming brisk, and my walk to the train station was far enough in the cold that I kept my hands tucked into my jacket pockets. Rajotte was sitting on the sidewalk at the corner of 4th Street and 5th Avenue S.W. so I decided to cross the road and make one stop at Tim Horton’s.

I ordered a blueberry muffin and a large regular coffee. I walked outside, made my way to Rajotte and mentioned to him that the temperature was beginning to drop and a hot cup of coffee would warm up the evening. I passed him the hot cup of coffee and he continuously thanked me.

I told him that he couldn’t have a fresh cup of coffee without a freshly baked muffin. He looked up at the small brown Tim Horton’s bag that I had in my hand and I passed it to him.

He grinned ear to ear and he again thanked me repeatedly. As I was wishing him well, Rajotte reached for my hand and gave me a small chocolate that was wrapped in vibrant Christmas foil and wished me a very Merry Christmas.

Weeks later, I recognized that Rajotte’s story must be shared. His kind words, well wishes and small gifts are only some of his great qualities that he shares with strangers. He and I sat on the street corner and talked for nearly 30 minutes. We exchanged business cards and agreed to a formal interview and to photograph him the following week. I looked at the business card and I recall Rajotte saying that it surprises many to know that a panhandler has a business card.

The Calgary Drop-In Centre provides business cards to their clients so they can have identification and phone number for future job opportunities.

This man gave me more than just a chocolate, he provided me with a first-hand experience to human kindness and oddly enough a life lesson. The lesson that I learned from Rajotte is to sit back and enjoy the small things that life provides.

The week of February 5, 2015 I passed by Rajotte and admired two pedestrians talking with him in the below-zero temperatures. As they were engaged in conversation, I snapped photos to capture the experience that I had witnessed weeks prior. Once the couple said goodbye to Rajotte, I walked towards him in the hopes to conduct the interview that we agreed on the previous week. He smiled and opened up a magazine for me to sit on so I didn’t have to sit on a layer of snow.

Rajotte and I talked for about 30 minutes and he seemed so happy to be interviewed and after my final question, he said, “Ask me one more!” As we concluded our interview, I wished him well and told him that I will keep in touch.

Life can be overwhelming, busy, expensive, stressful, and fast paced just to name a few. But, when you take the time to step back and watch it all happen from a different perspective just as I did, there is no amount of money in the world that can provide that kind of experience.

When your day is routine driven and you are busy emailing and texting while walking down a crowded street during rush hour traffic, try taking the time to talk to a stranger, buy someone a coffee, and create happiness. Taking the time to help others is a gratifying and rewarding task that provides a sense of self-worth to everyone involved.

criabko@cjournal.ca 

To read the full interview click here