Many years ago now, I worked at a big hospital up north in Sweden. With the bus rides included, my work days were long. During the winter period, you don’t get too many hours of daylight there — it was pitch dark when I left in the morning, and dark when I got home.
I had to transfer downtown … there was this big square, like a hub for the buses. One late afternoon, I was standing there, waiting, in darkness and sleet, the ever present, nippy wind was blowing … the grey mass of people I didn’t know, kept moving. It certainly didn’t look as nice as it does in this picture I borrowed from Wikipedia.
A little, old boozer approached me. I knew he was a boozer, because when you’re living in Sweden you just know these things. They are always visible there, not like here, where I don’t know where they’re hiding. They hang around public areas, often close to the liquor store, most of the time they don’t do any harm — they’re just a sad bunch.
Now, this scruffy little, old man — hard to tell if he really was all that old, they age prematurely with that type of lifestyle — he asked me if I happened to have any spare change. I wasn’t in the best of moods, I’d just been standing there, wondering what on earth I was doing in this place, where I felt I didn’t belong. So I asked the guy what he was going to use this change for, if I happened to have any. He said he’d go to the nearby liquor store and buy a bottle of beer. I appreciated his honesty — many would have made up a story about paying for the bus or something like that. He showed me the few coins he already had — not enough for one bottle of beer!
I had a 50 Swedish Crowns bill in my pocket, and to this day I don’t know what possessed me to do this (bear in mind this was long time ago, today 50 SEK = $6): I said to the man, “I’ll give you this and you go and buy yourself a bottle of wine instead, that will keep you going much longer than a stupid beer!” Now I can almost hear many people saying, “why didn’t you bring him to a food joint and made him have something to eat instead?” Yes, I could have done that, and the hunt for change would have continued afterwards. But I tell you … just seeing his toothless smile, and the way his eyes lit up, made it worth losing fifty crowns. Obviously, I still remember it, and vividly too. The scruffy looking, little boozer got a few more hours of relief. He is probably long gone, and I hope he’s resting in peace. You never know, perhaps he decided that that particular bottle of wine was his last, that he gave up drinking, went in to the hospital for detox, straightened up his life and became a productive citizen. I doubt it — he was too far gone — but miracles do happen.