Shelby & the Pancake Puppies
“Nothing is more important than another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we are going to survive with dignity.”
– Audrey Hepburn
Have you driven along East Hastings in Vancouver, BC recently?
I hadn’t driven down that street for more than a decade. And what I saw a couple of weeks ago, when GPS directed me to drive down it, shocked me.
But first, let me back up a bit and tell you how that day started…for me.
Let’s see…I woke up at a friend’s place in the beautiful community of Cordova Bay near Victoria. I had coffee in their lovely sunroom with Eddie the cat curled up beside me and Archie, the lab/retriever puppy, bouncing about. As I looked out the window at the flowers blooming in their garden, thinking about the fun road trip ahead of me, I remember thinking, “I am so friggin’ lucky.”
Then I hopped in my car, boarded the ferry to Vancouver and enjoyed a yummy White Spot breakfast on board while taking in the stunning scenery.
In Vancouver, I drove to Robson Street, picked up friends who were visiting from Quebec and took them to Canada Place, where they would board their cruise ship to Alaska. But first, we went to Tim Horton’s and had some laughs, catching up. Then, after bidding them bon voyage, I went back to my car and put “Kamloops” into my GPS – which is where I was headed next. For the life of me, I can never seem to find my own way out of downtown Vancouver.
Which is how I ended up driving down East Hastings.Block after block, I drove…past sidewalks filled with hundreds of homeless people seriously down on their luck. Click To Tweet
Some were passed out. Some were in a zombie state. Some were begging. Some were yelling. Some were doing drug deals. Some were dealing with police. Some were being attended to by paramedics.
All were experiencing a life I cannot even begin to imagine.
I remember stopping at a red light and glancing to my left and seeing a man slumped on the ground, propped up against the tree. The way his sunglasses were perched on the top of his head made it look like he’d just nodded off. Whether it was the after-effects of drugs or booze, I don’t know. But I do know it was noon. That’s not how anyone I know spends their lunch hour.
Now, perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, “Maryanne, did you just fall off the turnip truck? How could you not know how dire the homeless problem is on East Hastings? Have you not heard of the opioid crisis?”
Of course, I have. And intellectually, I know full well that homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction is a huge and complicated problem.
Emotionally, however, I have not felt much in terms of empathy, other than a fleeting thought of “Gee…it must really suck to live on the street.” Because let’s face it, homelessness is not an issue that impacts me personally…at least, not directly.
Alas, it would seem the Universe felt it was time to open my eyes and my heart to this issue. Which is probably why I ended up at the Denny’s restaurant in Kamloops for dinner.
As the hostess was walking me through the restaurant, we passed a booth where a young woman was slumped over on the table, her head cradled between her arms.
“Oh no,” I thought to myself, “Don’t put me next to her.”
Which, of course, is exactly what the hostess did. So there I sat in my booth, right beside her booth, hiding behind my menu and hoping she didn’t wake up anytime soon.
She did. And then she proceeded to try and get out of her booth. I have never seen a human being move so slowly. She was high as a kite on God knows what…but whatever it was did not look like much fun. She looked like the other zombies on East Hastings. She finally managed to extricate herself from the booth, then ever so slowly reached for not one purse but two…then slowly draped both purse straps over her head. And I do mean slowly.
When she finally stepped away from her booth, I couldn’t help but notice that a) she was wearing extremely short shorts and b) she had a nasty bruise on her forehead. I have no idea how this woman’s day began but I can pretty much guarantee it was not the same charmed and lovely start I had to my day. We were living in completely different worlds.
I sunk a little lower in my seat, trying to hide behind my menu.
It worked…because she had more important things on her mind. She ever so slowly floated the five steps over to the nearest server and asked a question. I couldn’t hear what because she spoke so softly.
The server shook her head, wide-eyed, and went to get the manager. The manager came over. The young woman repeated her whispered request. I don’t know what the manager said but after he left, the young woman slowly turned around and started making her way towards my table.
“Hi…” she says, when she finally reaches my booth. Or at least, I think that’s what she said. I could barely hear her.
“Hi,” I say.
Then she whispers something, again scarcely audible.
“Pardon me?” I say.
She repeats her question. But she speaks so softly, all I hear is: “Puppies.”
“Puppies?” I ask, puzzled. “What about puppies?”
She manages a very slow smile.
“Pancake puppies,” she whispers.
“Pancake puppies? What the heck are pancake puppies?”
Then it dawns on me that we are in a restaurant that serves all-day breakfast.
“Oh,” I say, “Pancake puppies are on the menu…and you would like some?”
“Yes!” she whispers and again manages a slow smile.
“Sure,” I say, “I’ll order you pancake puppies. You go sit down and they’ll bring them to you.”
“Thank you!” she whispers.
Then she turns around and begins the slow two-foot trek back to her own booth. But when she finally reaches it, she walks right on by…and heads towards the bathroom.
As perhaps you can imagine, she was in the bathroom an awfully long time. When she finally emerges, she arrives back at her table at the same time as the pancake puppies. They are in a to-go box.
But instead of sitting down, she comes over to my booth and holds out her hand. “I’m Shelby,” she says.
I shake her hand. “I’m Maryanne.”
“Thank you so much,” she says.
“You’re very welcome.”
Then she returns to her booth and slowly begins packing up what I suspect might be all her earthly belongings. From beneath the table, she slowly hauls out not one but two large suitcases. Then she puts on a baseball cap. Then, with her purses around her neck and the box of pancake puppies tucked God knows where, she slowly drags her suitcases to the door. Outside, she wanders around the parking lot for awhile then finally makes her way over to the sidewalk.
And that’s the last I see of Shelby…slowly making her way up the street, into the setting sun. Chances are good she is headed to the bus station to catch a bus to Vancouver…to East Hastings.
When Shelby comes down from her high and lands wherever she lands, she probably won’t remember me. But I will never forget her. She helped me find a little piece of my heart…that I didn’t realize was missing.
“I never forget a little child who taught me a very beautiful lesson. … If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
– Mother Teresa
Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a co-founder of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.