A stranger from The East

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

The sun is set­ting as a bearded man ar­rives in Alexan­dria. He is on foot; he has no cur­rency; he has no place to lay his weary head for the night. He comes from The East, well, Joli­ette, Québec. The soft-spo­ken, af­fa­ble trav­eller is look­ing for a sta­ble. Hon­est.

But he does not come bear­ing gifts. In fact, he says he has no worldly goods what­so­ever.

His name is Jerome, he says. He of­fers no fam­ily name. No pho­tos, please. “I want to ar­rive as a stranger.” What is he run­ning, or walk­ing, from? Or is he walk­ing to­wards some­thing? His itin­er­ary is vague. His next des­ti­na­tion may be Avon­more, but that all de­pends on how much ground he can cover the fol­low­ing day.

His im­me­di­ate goal is find­ing shel­ter for the night. Jerome has stopped over at the li­brary, where he gets a cof­fee, warmth and In­ter­net ac­cess.

“I like sleep­ing in aban­doned barns.” Guided by the stars, car­ry­ing his pack­sack, he will seek out overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion.

When he is re­minded that the ther­mome­ter is to dip be­low mi­nus-10 this night, Jerome con­cedes that a sta­ble may be a lit­tle overly rus­tic for the con­di­tions. Per­haps he will camp out on a porch at a church. Jerome is ap­pre­cia­tive of the warm wel­come he has re­ceived in town. One woman has given him ham­burg­ers; lo­cals are in­trigued by his story. What is his story? Jerome has been on the road for two years. His mis­sion is to at­tempt to get by on the char­ity of strangers.

For a per­son who has no place to call home, Jerome is per­fect­lyl kempt. He looks like your av­er­age guy.

So far, he has been to the Mar­itimes, walk­ing through Cape Bre­ton, vis­it­ing Fred­er­ic­ton.

He is think­ing of head­ing to­wards Ge­or­gian Bay or Ni­a­gara Falls be­fore the weather here gets too bru­tal. “Peo­ple are ready to help out a stranger,” he says. Isn’t that re­fresh­ing? Jerome has met all types in his trav­els. In one un­friendly place, he was chased away by se­cu­rity guards when he tried to sleep in a green­house near a hos­pi­tal. Se­cu­rity guards can get ner­vous about that kind of sit­u­a­tion. Due dili­gence must be ex­er­cised when pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, and po­ten­tial ex­po­sure to li­a­bil­ity, are con­cerned.

But Jerome be­lieves the guards’ re­ac­tion re­flects a dark side of hu­man na­ture. “Peo­ple are afraid of be­ing pun­ished for do­ing the right thing.”

Yes, well, out of the blue a man ap­pears and wants to crash in your green­house or your barn. What is your im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion? The first in­stinct would be to ques­tion this guy’s mo­tives. What is his an­gle? You might look around, seek­ing out hid­den record­ing de­vices to en­sure that this is not some sort of prank that will end up on the news or, even worse, so­cial me­dia.

What if this is some type of so­cial ex­per­i­ment? Jerome may be work­ing on a book or a Net­flix se­ries ex­pos­ing the real na­ture of those prover­bial gen­er­ous, arms-open-wide invit­ing ru­ral res­i­dents.

Or you could just ac­cept Jerome as he is, with­out doubt­ing the true rea­sons for his trek.

Per­haps his only goal is to get peo­ple to think of moral im­per­a­tives, do­ing the right thing, and of­fer­ing suc­cor to strangers who come from The East on a cold win­ter’s night.

Joyeux Noël, Jerome, wher­ever you are. --

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