Last year, around this time, my computer was stolen out of the living room of my house. Someone came in the back gate, opened the door, grabbed my laptop and power cable, and took off. I lost all of my school work, my entire photo collection, and a lot of other information that is irreplaceable. The Police Officer who responded to my call advised that this sort of thing happens a lot in Kingston, and that there was virtually no chance I would reclaim my things. He was completely right, as I have yet to recover my computer or data.
This was the tipping point when I became someone who actively hated this city. For the past year I have had a raging hate-on for all things Kingston. I couldn’t wait to get out of here once I finished my degree. My house wasn’t the only one in my neighborhood to be burglarized. A guy down the street had things stolen from the yard where his children play. I regularly find syringes marked “property of Queen’s University Department of Medicine” scattered around the same streets that I see kids riding bikes and playing baseball on. I can’t even walk out my front door without being asked for spare change. Gangs of drunken morons kick over my trash can and scatter the recycling across the road. Occupants of a house down the street let their dog urinate all over the sidewalk, and they don’t clean up it’s droppings from the front lawn. Nobody shovels their sidewalks in the winter, so I have to walk down the street into incoming traffic. Kingston was a pit that I hoped to soon crawl out of.
Last Friday, I walked across the street to introduce myself to my neighbour, who I have exchanged waves and hellos with for the last year or so. I met Donald and his wife Melania (names changed), who have lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years. They asked me what I thought of Kingston, and my response was much more diplomatic than what I’ve said above. Over the course of our conversation, I mentioned that my lawnmower was broken, and I asked if I could borrow theirs to take care of my lawn, which was beginning to make the entire neighborhood look bad. Thankfully, Donald agreed to let me borrow his lawnmower after he got home from work the next morning.
On Saturday, I came home from breakfast to find Donald in front of my house with a weed-whacker, cutting my grass. He had borrowed it from his friend, and was happily taking my lawn to task. After he finished, he went and got his mower and re-did the whole thing to make it even. As I shared a beer with him in the back yard, he explained that his friend repairs lawnmowers. Donald had him over earlier in the day to have a look at mine, and he offered to take it into his friend’s shop for me. I was flabbergasted by Donald’s generosity. When I expressed that to him, he said, completely nonchalantly, “I have kids your age. I would hope that if they were in trouble, someone like me would be there for them.”
I present these two contrasting stories, which happened around the same time of the year in the same place, for a variety of reasons. First, I think that this sort of thing could happen in any city. History is marked by extreme acts of cruelty and kindness, of malevolence and beneficence, of vice and virtue. My neighbours are seemingly willing to come to my place to steal something valuable from me, and to give me back something with a completely different kind of value. Second, I wanted to shed light on the fact that Kingston is not a “good” place or a “bad” place, rather it’s just a place with people who are neither entirely good nor absolutely evil.
Having said that, while Donald’s act of kindness has made me hate this place a little less, it has not changed my opinion of it wholesale. Kingston is still a place that faces serious challenges. However, maybe with people like Donald here, there’s hope that Kingston can change for the better.