by Michael Peterson
In the winter of 1990, I was asked to appear on a television talk
show in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. At the end of our first day of taping I was on my way
back to my plush, high-rise, cable-TV, twenty-four-hour room service hotel, when I saw
something I'd never seen before.
Lying on the sidewalk against a building in four inches of snow was
a man sleeping with only a cardboard blanket to keep him from being completely exposed to
the freezing cold. What really broke my heart was when I realized that he wore no shoes or
I thought to stop and help him but was not quite sure what to do. As
the traffic light turned green, it seemed life was demanding that I move along. So I did.
Back in the "anything I wanted was mine" environment of my hotel, I promptly
forgot about the man on the street.
Several days later, prior to the morning taping, I was having coffee
and Danish in the green room at the station. All of the "important" people had
left the room and it was just me and the janitor remaining.
I had seen him quietly go about his business every day while I was
there, and he never said a word except "Good morning" or "Can I get
anything for you, sir?" He always had a smile to give to everyone. When I asked him
how he was feeling today, he told me that he'd been having to ride his bike to work in the
snow and that he'd been feeling rather sorry for himself. . .that is, until he saw a man
sleeping down on the corner of Yonge Street and Bloor with just a piece of cardboard for
covering from the cold and no shoes. I almost choked on my Danish as I heard him go on to
relate how he was so moved with compassion for the man that he went around the corner to a
store and bought the man a pair of socks and shoes.
As I heard his story, I saw in my mind a poster that used to be in
an old friend's bedroom when I was a teenager. It was a picture of a child handing someone
a flower and the caption read: "The smallest deed always exceeds the grandest of
I stood there wishing it was me who had bought the shoes and socks
for the man, when they called my name to come to the set.
As I got to the studio, they were just concluding an interview with
a social worker who specialized in benevolence for eastern Ontario. The social worker
relayed a story about Mother Teresa, who when asked once how she had accomplished such
great things in her life responded, "None of us can do anything great on our own, but
we can all do a small thing with great love."
When I went home that day, I looked for the man on the street. He
was gone, but I knew it wouldn't be long before someone took his place.