Tara Nanayakkara

Model Citizen

On Saturday I was a model for a day. Seriously, who would have thought? Actually I did. It was a planned event sponsored by the Coalition of Persons with Disability of Newfoundland and Labrador (CODNL) and the Overcast newspaper. The aim of the project was to showcase people with disabilities in a positive light, i.e. going about their day to day business, be it grocery shopping, cooking or working. They created a photo contest for photographers to seek out these people who would volunteer to pose in front of the camera for this purpose.

I happily agreed to pose for two wonderful photographers. Doing so gave me a chance to flash my new novel at the lens and say, "yeah, so I can't see to drive but I can write and make my characters drive...the plot!" Um...now then...

As much as I enjoyed being the focus of attention for hours on end and no, I cannot tell a lie, I loved every minute of it, there was one aspect of the afternoon's photo shoot that really warmed my heart.

As Photographer Brian Carey and I strolled the downtown core in hot pursuit of local backdrops and trendy coffee shops for me to pose in front of, I witnessed the human face of hardship and homelessness as I saw them through Brian's eyes. He literally knew by name, every pan handler, busker and doorstep lodger that otherwise blended into the scenery. I thought about that old Christmas song "Pretty Paper" by Roy Orbison. The song tells the story of a man sitting on the sidewalk as busy shoppers walk past, paying him no attention whatsoever. Brian paid attention. To me, he showed himself to be a model citizen. I wonder how many politicians know the names of every struggling individual who crosses their path on a windy, pre-Christmas Saturday.  Do they know their backstories, their heartbreaks and their losses?

It bothers me to no end that I can't always recognize acquaintances by face when I see them here and there. Routinely I've had these people ask me, "Can't you recognize my voice?" The problem with that line of thinking is that so many people have similar speaking voices, and so why would I risk making a mistake and embarrassing myself? To know people by name, just after seeing them once or twice is a wonderful attribute to have. It shows you are in touch with your community and the people around you.

On Saturday I was a model for a day but how nice it would be to be a model citizen every day and know by name not only those we know well but those we don't.