Lightstep

A few weeks ago I read an article from Julia Jones, published by Vice. It spoke of a Real Life Super Hero, right here in Montreal. Active for over two years, no less. How the hell had I never heard of this? More so, why did it bother me so much that I never found the guts to go out there and do it myself? Now before you start thinking I fantasize of attaining heroic glory and performing dashing rescues whilst dressed as a plump yet fierce amazonian warrior woman, let me explain why I feel I`ve let myself down.

And no, there will be no photos of myself dressed as described above.

Here is a little fantasy I had while I was in high school. Don`t laugh, please, I was a teenager with hopes and dreams. I had this desire of helping out street youths since I was in high school. I thought if I worked hard enough at educating and establishing myself, I might be able to found some sort of shelter/safe hang out spot. Like some sort of haven from strangers, the weather, harassment, you get the idea. It would have been an alternate to social workers or foster homes, who I thought did a shit job of trying to relate to kids in general. In my idealistic little head, I would have created a sort of drop-in commune. Kids could drop by and learn new things, relax, have someone to talk to if they needed/wanted it. In my perfect world, they felt so safe and positive there, they would want to get involved in my project, and contribute one way or another, gaining new skills and a sense of accomplishment, thus leading them to grow into productive and happy adults! Hell I had even planned what color to paint the walls.

There was so much ugliness out there. I wanted to change it all, and it made sense that kids were the ones to nurture and assist in their time of need. But you know, in a cool way.

But you know. I dropped out of school. Soooo…. I never did get the education required to do anything even slightly near what I had imagined. I got a bit discouraged, which is understandable. Everyone I spoke to about this was like “no you need a diploma/masters/doctorate, you wouldn`t be able to do anything like that until you`re over 30”

In my head, over 30 meant you might as well give up on your dreams or taking on any new projects. That`s what your 20s are for right? Life is over after 29. HAH! 35 year old me could just strangle 16 year old me.

So I was disillusioned, my dream balloon popped, and I turned the anger outward. I shut out the world outside, since it clearly could not be changed by me. Sure, if I stumbled across a situation where I could help someone, I acted. I taught self-defense for women for a while. Helped an old lady who`s house was being broken into. Volunteered in a shelter for abused women. I still help friends out when I can. While it did feel nice to have made a difference for a handful of people, we all know there are so many more people in need of help. And that bothered me.

All this to say that as I grew up, that dream of actively helping people kinda shrunk away. Never far from my thoughts, but you know. I had responsibilities, and no education. I couldn`t afford to mess around with working for free when I had a hard time paying rent.

And you know what all that is?

Excuses.

When I first started hearing about real life super heroes, I was like “That is so cool but these people are nuts. What are they really trying to do, find trouble? Start fights?” Like that Washington dude. And the ones I heard about were all in the U.S anyways… everything that happens over there is so surreal to me anyways. Didn`t feel real. To add to that, Kick-Ass happened, sensationalizing real life supers even more. And the thought it would ever happen in Montreal? Tiny, insignificant Montreal? Nonsense.

So yeah. Fast-forward to about 3 weeks ago, I read about Lightstep, Montreal`s Real Life Super Hero.

Not gonna lie, it blew my fragile little mind. Not only did Lightstep not sound like the tools parading around in fancy cosplay hoping to fight violence with more violence, but it seemed like my high school dream had taken a new form. My eyes were re-opened. Impulsive as I can be, I wrote to him.

“OMG dude I think what you are doing is fantastic! I can make costume bits for you if you want new ones, or like, wanna be featured on my website?”

I may have written something a bit less ridiculous, but that was pretty much it. To my surprise, he wrote back.

Hi Sophie, thanks for the kind words! I’m kind of shy about asking for things, so I’ll just thank you for the offer. We can do something for your blog if you’d like, but again I’m cautious about making it ‘all about me’, because I am really trying hard to be NOT taking up a lot of space. Maybe you could join one night and document your own experience?”

So yeah, duh I went out with him. We met at 11pm on a Saturday night, planning to patrol until 3am.

Now, according to the Vice article, Lightstep prefers to be referred to as “they”. This isn`t something I actually discussed during our meeting, but I will respect it from here on.

First thing they said to me?

“Admit it, I`m shorter than you imagined huh!”

I tried not to imagine anything about them, actually. I mean, you can`t help it for little details, but I just wanted to take it all in without any sort of expectations, so as to not color my experience with my imagination too much. But here I was, faced with this slim, tiny person, who seemed as perky and lively as I get when I am sleep deprived. Nevermind the all-over black, kevlar, luchadore mask and hood. They were like a cool new fun person you met at a party. Animated and motivated. And chatty. So open about everything!

Right there and then I remembered something one of my martial arts teachers said to me: “A genuine smile can sometimes be your best defense.”

This is something Lightstep proved true several times that night. Whether it was with drunk bro-dudes semi-teasing the costume, or the tall man who aggressively tried to convince me to blow him on the street. Every possibly negative encounter, however brief, was turned into a lyrical anecdote. That, my friends, is not only masterful diffusion, but it is also how we should live our lives each and every day. There would be less negativity all over if we simply tried to make the best out of things. It`s like that whole pay-it-forward deal. No expectations other than making someone else`s day a little better, but this would have a magical exponential effect!

I know I would disappoint many of you if I didn`t recount my adventures while out on patrol with them. The thing is though, other that that semi-aggressive dude, not much happened. It was a super quiet night. We chatted and walked. They posed for photos with a couple of bro-dudes, laughed with people singing the spider-man theme song at us, and gave a hat and scarf to a homeless guy that had asked us for change. We did witness a slightly disturbing event, though we did not get involved.

Across the street from us on Ste-Cat`s this guy was making some unhappy sounding noises. A couple of cops pulled up and intercepted him. His friends were asking him to cooperate, but he was verbally belligerent and threatening. We stopped and watched as the cops semi-restrained him against a parking pay station. We had no idea what the situation was, but it did seem as though the 2 officers had it under control. So why did 4 other police cars pull up to assist? Just seemed a bit much to me, but again, I don`t know the details of what happened. Lightstep looked at me and said we shouldn`t stick around. We moved on.

What made this night special for me was the discussion we shared. What most surprised me was when they told me they don`t always wear the mask and outfit when they go out to patrol, or help people. They explained why.

The mask is worn every now and then, just to establish a presence. It helps just to know someone is out there, keeping a watchful eye out. But the mask also prevents some things. Like, security guards in malls won`t let you go inside with a mask, even if you are bringing in hot meals for the homeless people hiding inside from the cold. Likewise, the organizations providing the meals he hands out would probably be less willing to deal with a faceless anonymous person, instead of cooperating with them. Sometimes the mask is a little intimidating, and inspires mistrust. It can be easier to help out just as a regular person.

This was another eye-opener to me. Not only do they go out on night patrol like this regularly, but they donate their time and efforts in the daytime. Doing regular things. Just helping.

I honestly feel like an idiot. I like to think of myself as somewhat intelligent, so why did I not click on this message earlier? It took something this extreme to make me not only realize the obvious, but accept it as well.

Lightstep is a Real Life Super Hero. They help people out in mundane situations as well as potentially dangerous ones. They help prevent neglectful harm by doing needle clean-ups. They bring food to people who can`t afford or find any. They give directions to lost tourists and get overly drunk people safely into taxis on their way home. They hand out condoms and hygienic tools to sex-workers in kits they assembled at home, same for drug users to prevent infection of used needles or pipes. They talk to people who feel ignored and bring a little kindness to some who feel angry. And you know what? These are all, for the most part, things we can do on a daily basis, as regular joe-shmoes. No need for special educational degrees.

Go donate to a food bank. Give out your old gloves or scarves to homeless people. Keep an eye out for shit that shouldn`t fly, and if you see any, do something about it! Call for help, bring attention to it, anything just don`t walk by and do nothing. This is nothing we haven`t heard before, so why not start acting on it? If we all did in a month half of what Lightstep does in a week, we`d all be Real Life Super Heroes.

We walked to Atwater near 3am, where I would catch a cab home. The night bus was coming up and they were going to try and catch it. We said bye, thanks for the company, and headed off home our separate ways, and it was no different than with any one of my friends. This small, funny and genuine person, doing amazing things gave me much to think about and tons to hope for.

I don`t really know how to end this. I honestly am just hoping I did some small amount of justice to the message they want to share. I`m going to leave links here, to a few charities and organizations, in case I was able to inspire anyone to start helping out as well.

Dans La Rue

ACCM

Cactus

Share The Warmth

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