Rage & Respect

1 January 2023 – All around me are reasons for the former; the latter — unexpected, vehement — lifts my heart. A life lesson in life’s juxtapositions, on an alley wall in the DTES, with the new year barely 11 hours old.

I had been elsewhere in the city’s Downtown Eastside, and I am now walking south on Gore Street before doubling back out to Main and a bus ride home. The area is… devastated. I have earned my living with words, and I have no adequate words for the DTES. COVID on top of the long opioid crisis, tent cities on sidewalks. No-one harasses or threatens me; I walk without fear but with an impotent mix of pity & frustration. What to do? What useful response? And, to which bit of which problem?

Then, between East Cordova & East Hastings, I walk down one half of one grubby alley, and I see something wonderful.

I see rage, and I see respect for one response to one bit of one of the problems.

Far end of the alley, down toward Main Street, is bleak and still. Crows scream insults; nothing else moves.

The near end, here at Gore, pulses with street art life. Really street — not juried, approved & curated into a festival. (I say this with no disrespect for the VMF, just in recognition that street-street is a different creature.)

This is the first of three images, all three raw with colour & line. The images are interspersed with text, and it is the text — the rage & respect of the text — that lifts my heart and fills me in turn with respect.

Text fills the wall, either side of that bald biker image. On the left, a nod of thanks to the East Van Art Crew…

and on the right, a message about the real problem. Which is not the drugz.

A big verbal smack upside the head, to treat each other right.

I move on, read on. Next, a whole doorway of text.

A big “265” at the top, okay, probably back door to something. And then a lecture, surely added later, about the people involved with “265” and how to treat them.

Later, I look it up. This is the back entrance to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, located at 265 East Hastings, founded in 1978, open 24/7, and “one of the few safe spaces within the Downtown Eastside for self-identified women and their children.”

There must have been some incidents. Kendra, author of this lecture, is on a tear.

Hat’s off to Kendra. All these workers & volunteers deserve respect, she says. “None of these women are obligated, forced or bribed 2 BE HERE! They are all here 4 all of us because they want to be…” She closes her tirade “with all my love & respect.”

(As I stand here reading the message, a slight, young hoodied figure slides past me, inserts a key, goes in.)

Next, on the wall, a woman’s face…

and next to her, more text. Another message about how to behave.

One more face…

and one last message of respect & gratitude.

Did you see the very bottom? Half-effaced, in ground-level dirt. Your work, it says, doesn’t go unnoticed.

I go home. I am shaken by all that is so desperately, pervasively, wrong in the DTES. But I am also moved and encouraged by the proof that good work is quietly, doggedly being done — and is appreciated.

Human nature, eh? The great both/and of good and evil.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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