You have passed the panhandlers, the street people, the down and outers, the misfits, the poor, the marginalized and the castaways and never given them as second thought. You may have given the odd one a coin from your pocket or you might have said good morning when they asked for help. They stand on busy corners where traffic merges and they walk between the cars stopped at a red light. They carry homemade signs telling you they are broke and want whatever you can give so they can have a meal. The signs are well folded and have been used over and over. Imagine if you were offered an insider’s look into the lives of people who have a story to relate but have always feared telling it.

Richard Wagamese has written about the “rounders,” the street people who know the city from the pavement upward; they have been around and they know what is going on. They are part and parcel of a subculture and taking them out of their reality would be like taking a fish out of water and hoping the fish could survive. The title of the book is Ragged Company (Anchor. Canada. 2009). You will be amazed as you read an insider’s look into the lives of people, how they made it to the street, and why they have stayed there for so long. A change occurs when four of the characters in the book win the lottery and each one is given over three million dollars. Eventually the ragged company will enlist seven people. What do you think changed the most? Wagamese is a very good storyteller and has a style that allows the reader to be swept up by his characters and to enter each one’s life wondering what will happen to the characters. What I found is that as a reader I wasn’t aware of the extent to which I would be affected and need to reflect on my own friendships. Yes, be forewarned that you will not want to put the book down but you will question yourself often about who you are, what you value and the rock-bottom meaning of your own life.

The following excerpt brings to life a street friendship, separation by death, and how it could have been so much more.

While I worked I thought about the years we travelled together. How we had thought we knew each other, how we had called that semblance of knowing friendship, and all the while my grief of Sylvan (the women he loved and had abandoned) rested under all that like an uncobbled stone – the pathway to knowing incomplete, the treading difficult, impossible perhaps, impassable. I though about how I failed him. How many secrets had taught him to keep his own. My pain granting his permission to fester and growl away at his guts too. I thought about how easy it is to hide in the company of others, allowing the motion of lives to obfuscate your inner workings so that what’s presented becomes more a bas-relief than a sculpted image. I had failed him then. Failed to let him see me. Failed to let him know me in corrugated chips and fracture lines. Failed to let him know that friends are imperfect replicas of the people we think we choose, and that imperfection is the nature of it all. We come together in our brokenness and find that our small acts of being human together mend the breaks, allow us to retool the design and become more. I never taught him that.

In today’s culture, neglect is perhaps our greatest weakness. We procrastinate and put off until tomorrow what we could have accomplished today. You will come upon the word “permeate,” as I did. You will hear Digger say, “It happens when you imagine.” You imagined and it permeated you. As to his dear friend, Timber So from now on, whenever I am in a park, I’m going to imagine we’re still walking around and telling crazy stories to each other. [In so many circumstances] I am going to imagine that. I am going to imagine that so he can permeate me, became a part of me again. Let all the people around you permeate your life.

This column is dedicated to the men whose home is Nazareth House.