Sunday, 17 December 2017

Help For The Helpless

It snowed at the weekend.  beautiful, sloppy flakes slaloming from the sky, glowing as if from within with reflected light from the Narniaesque lamp post outside my window.   a chocolate box scene of nostalgic Christmases past, replete with warmth and camaraderie.  well.... not all Christmases, not the one spent in a squat sans electricity, running water or glass in the windows, waking to a layer of ice on the thin blanket, a tummy as empty as the food cupboard, the black eye of a large rat contemplating whether my chin would make a tasty breakfast, i in return wondering if a candle would generate enough heat for rat stew. it's strange how candlelight can evoke such an extreme of memories, either cosily snug when lit by choice in the security of a safe home, ecclesiastical at an Advent Service or signifying loneliness and want when imposed by poverty. 

That season didn't hold a great deal of joy or merriment, the warmest moments involved a Salvation Army Band and tea laid on in a bleak church hall by people of goodwill who gave up a Sunday afternoon to feed us waifs and strays, simply because they could and they cared.  it was their kindness shown through coffee and sandwich that started me on the road to redemption, such a simple offering saved a little lost soul at no great cost to the givers.
We were a raggle taggle bunch of misfits unified by one fact.... for various reasons we couldn't go home or we had no home to return to.  we came from every social class with varying degrees of education and wealth.  one young man had been thrown out of home because he was "a pansy".  his adoptive parents believed a real man was a hard drinker who worked with his hands and beat his wife.   john was a philosopher, a dreamer, a poet who taught himself renaissance guitar on an instrument missing several strings and read Plato.  some had learning difficulties and simply didn't know how to manage the intricacies involved in maintaining a home.  there were many with mental health issues who wandered the motorways vainly trying to outrun their demons.  family violence and abuse was a recurring theme making a shop doorway  a marginally safer option than their own bedroom.   none of us woke one morning and decided homelessness and poverty was our career path of choice, we were all victims who had run out of safe places to hide
For a long time after leaving the streets i would wake in the night and pull the blanket onto the floor and sleep there in solidarity with my soul kindred still suffering the depredations of street life.  even now, decades later, i wake and my mind's eye wanders the doorways and alleys, the dark spaces, the dangerous places and seeks out the damaged in spirit, the broken of body and shivers vicariously with them.

Last week amongst the Christmas shoppers laden with bags, standing next to a busker blasting out Jingle Bell Rock was an older lady selling The Big Issue.   she had the wary, weary look that i wore all those years ago.   I found myself wondering about her story and the road that brought her to this little market town relying on the generosity of strangers for a meal and bed that freezing night.   what cruelties and inhumanities had she experienced to bring her so low at an age where most were looking towards a gentle retirement in the company of loved ones,  and i remembered the past.... as i often remember.... and i bought her magazine.... and felt impotent.... as i often feel impotent in the face of great need.

Some believe it's the responsibility of government to provide for the vulnerable, and they are right but our government doesn't care, its policies show that,  from the reducing of disability support to billions of pounds worth of cuts to the public services that help the weakest and poorest.   some believe that charities should fill the gap, and they try but many charities rely on government grants and they are being relentlessly cut.  some assume homelessness could never happen to them or anyone they love and in their shortsightedness fail to recognise that the hungry soul in front of them could be any one of us given certain circumstances.  some simply lack imagination or compassion, their hardness of heart an indictment of first world selfishness, we have become a society that is rich in matter but poor where it really matters, we have forgotten that a society is judged on how it treats it's weakest members.  

So this Christmas if you see a dirty bundle huddled in the cold try giving it a name, call him or her john or jeni, because once it was us and it's only because some strangers with a conscience saw us as fellow human beings and took the time to care that we aren't still there or, more likely,  found cold and stiff one snowy morning.


8 comments:

  1. As you know Jeni this happened a few days ago. I needed to write it down but have struggled to find the right words. Hopefully this makes sense.
    I met my Jeni on a very cold and wet day last week. She was sitting in an unused doorway on Northumberland Street, ignored or unseen by the Christmas shoppers hurrying from shop to shop. She was almost invisible, huddled in her grubby duvet, grey against grey,.Like everyone else I walked past her. I got about twenty yards past then I stopped, turned around and went back, gave her the couple of pounds I had in my pocket, held her hand briefly and told her to stay safe. This time last year I would have kept on walking, but in the months since finding you and after reading your first post on the subject, I now see the homeless in a somewhat different light. Whether she bought something hot with the money (there was enough for a decent coffee!) or not doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that I had done that most basic of things, reached out to a fellow human being in need of help, and showed them that someone cared.

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  2. As ever, you have a compelling way with words. xx

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  3. They say write about what you know, this I know.

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  4. An amazing lady who shares her knowledge wit those not able to understand. Thanks Jenni. X

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  5. That's kind Karen thank you. I never want to forget, speaking it every winter keeps me from becoming judgmental.

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  6. I've got way behind with emails and have missed a few of your posts. Just catching up now. This one really challenged me. Thank you. x

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    1. Thank you Kathy.
      As you can tell it's close to my heart.
      xxx

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