EDITORIAL: Beyond the surface

There was much more to White Rock homeless man Ryan Ashe than meets the eye, as evidenced by those who spoke at his memorial service.

Few would dispute the notion that first encounters leave lasting impressions.

An unexpected smile from a stranger can brighten another person’s day, as easily as a judgmental word can ruin it.

But in a world where, more often than not, what you see is what you get, it is refreshing to know there are those encounters – those people – who don’t quite fit the mould.

Time and again, it is proven that it can pay to look beyond a first impression; to open the tattered cover of a tossed-aside book, just to see what the author has to say.

Such was the sentiment of those who came out last week to pay tribute to one of White Rock’s most-visible figures: Ryan Ashe.

Ashe lived on the city’s streets – at its bus stops, behind its shrubbery and on its corners – for more than 20 years, before lung cancer took his life Aug. 13 at age 56.

There’s no doubt Ashe made an impression on everyone he encountered. For some – faced with Ashe’s scruffy appearance, minimal hygiene and carefully tarped mound of personal effects – the experience felt intimidating, and they chose to keep walking.

Others likely felt nothing (at least nothing they cared to acknowledge) and they also kept walking.

Some, however, stopped.

This latter group – perhaps sharing little more than a healthy curiosity and acceptance of their fellow man – spoke to Ashe, returned his gap-toothed smile and discovered, perhaps, that he wasn’t all that unlike them after all.

He’d had a job, he’d had a home, he had a family. It was clear he had challenges – the most difficult chapter stemming from a severe head injury he suffered in a car crash 26 years ago.

It would be conveniently poetic to remember Ashe as he was when encountered only on his good days. Like the rest of us, he had bad ones, too – when his thought-process seemed unconventional, to say the least.

In news stories over the years that highlighted Ashe’s presence in the community, if the phrase ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ wasn’t mentioned, it most certainly came to mind during the writing, and – we’re hopeful – the reading.

But, as many people pointed out Friday evening, Ashe’s life was not a blight. Far from it. His outlook, his sense of humour, even his determination to pay exact change for the can of room-temperature pop he so enjoyed, had an impact on those who chose to stop.

Ashe may not have had the best of covers on his book, but his story was clearly a rewarding read.

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