Today is my final day at work for the year before I return in January 2015. In the recent weeks I have been reminded of the nightmare and madness of the so-called ‘festive’ period, this thing called Christmas. I work in the heart of London so am surrounded on a daily basis by the lovely delights of shoppers, tourists and those who insist on walking and kept mesmerised by their mobile/tablet/kindle at the same time paying no heed whatsoever to the traffic behind them. At the best of times, these folk test my somewhat limited patience but over the last few weeks they’ve drained every last every bit of it away from me. I cannot wait for the madness of Christmas to be over with and for normality to resume. At the moment it’s impossible to just nip into your local M&S to get a sandwich for lunch if you want to do so in the usual 15 minutes or so. No. Be prepared to be standing behind hoards of people in a queue with trolleys and baskets piled high with food. For lest we forget, the shops will be closed for all of ONE day. We will starve if we do NOT stock up. People. You will not starve. Have you heard of the thousands living in poverty and facing poverty during Christmas? Young adults? Children??
You do not need even half the stuff you have in your trolleys. You know most of it will be sitting in bin bags come new year’s day. Next to your no-longer required Christmas trees. And you’ll be back in M&S or Waitrose or wherever you shop, this time stocking up on the alcohol for seeing in 2015. I will be volunteering at a homeless overnight shelter over Christmas in the heart of London. I am not doing this because it is seen as a ‘good’ thing to do. No act is ever truly altruistic anyway. I am aware of my own selfish motives but they are healthy ones I tell myself as they benefit both me, the volunteer, and the ones I volunteer with. I am reaching out because I feel that there is a lot of pain, loneliness and isolation 365 days a year. And this is felt even more acutely over the festive period. So Christmas is exactly the time of year when a little bit of kindness towards those who have little or nothing, may save someone another year of heartbreak; of feeling alone while others seem to have a place to go, family to be with, friends to share warmth and joy and companionship, or a Home (a concept that people who have never been homeless are so quick to dismiss).
And it is not just the homeless.
There is hidden homelessness too. And not just those who are sofa-surfing.
Think about the ones locked up, in prisons, in immigration detention centres, behind four walls that close down on a person every day. I invite you, if you can, to suspend judgment for a moment and just reflect on those separated by force and not by choice from those they love. Think about how being locked-up changes a person, how they may choose to disconnect because it may be easier for them to do so (but not necessarily for the ones affected down the line) and the ripple effects of this choice, cascading down over and over again in waterfalls of pain, to all those connected and involved.
Think about how we all are vulnerable and become products of our environment, like it or not. And the damage this does. Feel all this. Let it sink it. Don’t brush it away. It matters. So there is a lot to think about! And maybe the next time you load a trolley and your basket for things you do not need, pause and reflect? Think about your friends who may be on their own pretending to be all OK and strong. Perhaps you could ring them? Or ask if you could come over, for a chat or a chocolate digestive? Or both?
You never know, your kindness may just save someone.
Be kind to yourselves.
Quaker Homeless Action
Prisoners’ Families and Friends Service