When life collapses like an economy

January 1, 2020 -- Living City

When life collapses like an economy
How friendship helped a woman overcome a dire crisis

t was a wet cold winter’s morning in Toronto. I was at the bus stop on my way to work, shivering, and hoping the bus would come on time. As usual, most of the people around me had their earplugs in, were on the phone, drinking coffee or just “occupied.”

I too wanted to read my book and stay as warm as possible. However, something inside me told me that I shouldn’t just block out the world. Just the evening before, with some friends, we had read the scripture passage, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). I realized that every one of those strangers around me was in fact another Jesus to be loved, if only for a few minutes.

Then I saw her, a woman on her own, probably in her 40s. But what really struck me was her face: full of pain, with large, sad and distant eyes. She was not dressed for a Canadian winter, which made me think she probably had not experienced one before.

Thinking of the previous evening and what I committed to, I knew she was the person I had to love first, and immediately I said, “Good morning!” But when she turned to me with her sad face, I knew that something was very wrong.

When the bus arrived, it so happened there were only two seats by the door, so we sat next to each other. During the 25-minute ride to the metro, she told me her whole story, starting with a life of wonderful happiness with her husband, who had lived in Canada for many years. They met, married and went to live in Greece, his homeland, where they had two lovely boys and built up a successful restaurant in a beautiful locale and had, as she called, “a paradisiacal home”!

For years, they had a comfortable, perfect life, until that terrible, unforgettable moment when the economic depression hit and Greece collapsed.

Tragically, her husband’s restaurant went bankrupt, and in an instant they lost everything. The banks foreclosed on them and many of their friends as well. They literally had only their clothing and a few pieces of furniture. There was no work and no place for them to go. Their one saving grace was that her husband was a Canadian citizen and could return to Canada.

When I met her, they had arrived just a few weeks before and had nothing. She found a job in a bakery and that is where she was heading to. The two boys were in a local school, but her husband had sunk into a deep depression and was unable to look for work. The toll of their suffering was just too much for him she said.

I listened and just tried to help her feel loved and understood. As we got closer to the metro, I felt pushed to invite her for a coffee that evening. I had no idea what she would say but for a moment, her face lit up and she said, “Really? You would really do that?”

As we got off the bus, she said: “I must tell you that you don’t know what you did this morning. For the last few days I have walked over a bridge where I was told, ‘This is where people commit suicide.’ “I had contemplated it, as I realized what I had lost. And at our age, how could we start again, with two teenage boys? My husband was already giving up. But today you restored my hope. I had prayed that I would meet someone who could understand, someone I could talk to, who had faith just like me. Today God answered my prayers.”

We both cried — but out of joy!

Lela and I eventually became great friends, and later I met her husband and sons. Little by little, she found a better job, and we went together to look for some items for their apartment, and we shared family meals. A few months later, her husband started to go to the local Greek Community Club, and her sons began to progress in school.

A new life had begun — not an easy one, and certainly not the one they had — but we walked a painful part of that road together, with its joys and sufferings.

- Maria Dal Garno


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