So often we make judgments on the people around us with little to no insight or understanding of who they are or what their life's circumstances may be. Within a split second or a blink of an eye any of us can go from working in a decent paying job, living in a comfortable home, driving a nice car while enjoying good health and a happy little family to losing absolutely everything that means anything and all to us. A simple distraction of focus while driving a car causing a loss of concentration, for example, can end in disaster. The next time you walk down the street and see a homeless person, and I’m talking about a legitimately homeless person, and I’m not talking about someone attached to a drug syndicate panhandling to get a few bucks only to go off and buy drugs. (You can differentiate between the two by simple observation; check the shoes, check the jewellery, the mobile phone, are they any? Addiction, sadly is insidious and destructive on multiple levels, but that's a whole other story to this post). So, look a little deeper at your supposed homeless person and check the clues. But always remember that regardless of homelessness or drug addiction that that brother or sister sitting there before, and they are your brother or sister within the human race, consider, that it is only a small step for any of us, between here…and there! Just as you are, they too are someone’s brother or sister, son or daughter, father or mother and that the state of crisis they’re in, that you're looking at, that’s confronting you in that moment, could at any time be your state of crisis.
Who knows their story...a divorce, a loss of a good paying job, sickness, the death of a loved one, perhaps a car accident or a mental health crisis? Depression and anxiety, grief, PTSD schizophrenia or bipolar, the effects of childhood abuse or trauma can be and is devastating. Humility on your part can go such a long way.
Yesterday I took my youngest child to the city for a 'mum and son' day out. While we sat eating ice cream we observed an old man sitting on a street bench. He'd turned the ripped side of an old cardboard box into a sign, propping it up against the back of the bench and had written on it in black marker, 'Homeless, a little financial help for food and accommodation would be very much appreciated no matter how small'. As my son Noah, who is twelve years old, and I sat there chatting about the old fella, we tossed around a few ideas here and there about why he was homeless, what could have caused it, what is story was but all awhile I was conscience that life had just presented me with a grand opportunity to educate my young offspring about a different way of the world then he was used to. I allowed that chat to take on meaningful depth in order for some empathetic and compassionate seeds to be planted into my child’s heart. So, ‘old Ma’ went about educating her youngster, firstly about the importance of observation and of scanning a whole situation. Building good character in kids should always be coupled with strong messages of safety, self-preservation and not putting themselves in dangers way. Having compassion and empathy for our fellow human beings should never turn into a rescue mission to save anyone! Our old fellas cart was full of all his worldly possessions, his clothing was dishevelled, he wore flips and had no watch, no rings no necklaces. His hair alone seemed to tell the story, as sadly did the state of his legs, both red and swollen and there was no interaction between him and anyone else around him in the half hour we had sat there.
As we chatted and watched my heart was feeling the direct the pull of the Spirit within so, I told Noah to follow me, and to the bank machine we went to withdraw a few bucks. Walking back toward the old man, our eyes connected as we drew closer...the perfect chance to say 'Hi'...I grabbed the opportunity.
"Hi", I said
"Hi", He replied in a low barely audible voice. His eyes had only held mine for a split second and I knew that this needed to be a slow and gentle approach, for the feelings of shame and embarrassment were main players here. I removed my sunglasses so he could see my eyes.
"I'm Margy" I said, what initially struck me, shockingly so, was his brilliant blue eyes and the youthfulness of his face.
The old man looked up at me and replied, “I’m Nigel" in a soft, barely audible voice while offering his hand. I took it, my grip firm, his soft and shrinking. "Nice to meet you Nigel, this is my son Noah". Without hesitation, Noah stepped forward and shook his hand offering a smile and a hello. From a distance Nigel had looked like a very old man with grey hair and a defeated posture. But I'd seriously doubt if he was much older than me. Fiftyish.
“Your legs are looking a bit sore" I said
"Yea, they are", he said, "I went to the doctor yesterday, I'd scratched my leg and he thinks I've got cellulitis now".
"Ah, yeah, it looks like cellulitis, you need to put your legs up there". I answered, but just as Id said it instantly it occurred to me where exactly was he going to put his legs up? Silly thing to say Marg. I heard a voice in my head say while restraining the desire to roll my eyes at myself.
"Where are you sleeping?" I asked
"Behind the church most nights" He replied. I nodded in acknowledgment.
"Do you know about Ainslie Village?" I asked him, but not waiting for his answer I continued, "When I first came to Canberra 30 years ago I was homeless too, I was living on the streets for a bit but ended up at the Village." I had just offered Nigel the common denominator between us and he took it. Nigel straightened his back a little while focusing his eyes on mine more intensely than before. My homelessness experiences of the past were the connecting threads between us now.
"Yeah, I know about the Village", Nigel said, "I've done my fair share of time up there". I laughed aloud, acknowledging that I knew what he meant. Pretty much only those who had spent time at the Village knew what the 'village experience' was about. I said, "Yeah, really aye, anyone who's been around has done their fair share of time up there". We both chuckled as our own individual experiences played over in each of our minds.
"You must have been up there when the old village was still there? He asked.
"Yeah, I was, the old army barracks where there back then, I was in Block E". Nigel grinned and chuckled, he knew the place I was referring to.
Silence fell between us as we both watched each of our own memories play out in our heads.
I broke the silence. "Nigel, I want to give you some money, is that ok?"
He nodded his head as he looked to the ground. I reached into my bag for the money I'd withdrawn from the ATM moments before. I knew I was taking a gamble giving him cash. I didn’t know him. We'd shared a common experience for two minutes, but we were strangers. Did it matter? I was trusting my gut feeling about this situation and handed him the 20 bucks. He took it shyly while saying thanks. "That's okay mate" I said. "You take care, aye" We shook hands once more, and Noah and I walked away.
For five minutes the world around us dimmed and stood still. Two strangers and a little boy shared a moment of friendship and love. Our paths would probably never cross again...that’s how it’s meant to be.