“Jack” is a man I’ve known for years. He is a bit of a fixture in Parkdale: one of those people who you will inevitably find in the bus shelter by the library or on a bench in the park or wandering down Queen St. To some people he looks tough. That’s fair, though I know another side of him.

Whenever I see Jack he says, “how’s it going Girl?” and gives me a hug. He tells me when I look tired. He always asks how I am. When we say goodbye he tells me to “be safe”.

This past Monday Jack sat himself down beside me at a table and began to talk about knowing something in his life needs to change. Jack has been drinking alcohol since he was 9 or 10. He’s now 48. He drinks five to six bottles of cheap sherry a day. I don’t know if you care to, but just imagine what would make a 10 year-old start to drink. I have a ten year-old. There are a lot of things she wants to do. Drinking is not one of them.

Jack has also been talking a lot about what the PNC community means to him. He talks about knowing he will be treated with respect. While he jokes about coming just for the food he more seriously says, “here I feel safe”. Possibly even safe enough to quit drinking, something he fears more than anything. Jack needs to know that he can come to PNC, no matter what state he is in. He is welcome to come as he is. Though he is asked to leave the bottle at the door.

The invitation to come as you are means that PNC is one messy place. It is sometimes loud and sometimes wrought with angst. Sometimes people are disrespectful. Sometimes those activities that we would prefer to be subdued and peaceful are, well, not. It doesn’t make it easy. Nor does it mean that we won’t challenge bad behaviour in one another. It does mean that nobody needs to pretend, that there is a refreshing rawness to everything and that there is very little “us vs.them”. It is us.

Jack has my back and I have his. We’re on a journey together, one that I am confident will bring us both closer to healing, wholeness and hope.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.