Christmas is upon us, and, as ever it sees many of us rushing of to the shops to buy presents and food. Soon we will be raising our glasses to each other and to the Christ child, and then we will begin to stuff ourselves full of food and seasonal merriment in warm centrally heated or log fire emblazoned rooms.
Well some of us will anyway.
For others a lonelier Christmas lies in waiting. They will awaken to an otherwise empty bed, and walk round their empty house, bed-sit, or flat, and; if they even have a Christmas meal, no-one will sot opposite them, and no-one will raise a glass of seasonal cheer.
Yet, whichever categories we fall into, we are the lucky ones. We are the ones who are picked out by the Christmas Radar, but what of the poor devils who surround us on all sides, whose voices, bodies, and thoughts we do know , or, at times, do not wish to see.
I refer to the homeless that surround us, and those within society, and to all those for whom Christmas is a time of intolerable sadness, loneliness or pain. Some within this group are happy in their situation; indeed, while working within just one of many homeless drop in centre in the City of London, I was privileged to meet and talk to the happiest man that I have ever known.
For others though, it is different, and to demonstrate what I mean, I would like to describe the situation of one gentleman whose eyes, who sky blue eyes, registered a mixture of despair, bewilderment, sadness, shame, and pain.
I never knew his name, I never knew where he came from, or what had caused him to drop beneath the radar; and I do not know what became of him, but when he stopped coming to the centre, all of us working there shared a sense of hopelessness and frustration, for though we tried our damnedest, this was one client that we knew we would never see again.
We had not failed, for we could have made no greater effort to help him; he had not failed, for he fought against his remorseless slide with all the strength at his disposal, but he was exhausted, confused, and; from what the on-site counselors could tell us; unable to deal with his inner demons
Who was this gentleman, both by name and nature and how did he change during the time we knew him, well, read on if you want to know more
His name, for the sake of this post, I shall call Joe, and we first met him one wet Friday evening. It was a busy night, and, as ever, newcomers were always welcome. It would have been better if they’d no need of the centre, but we were always glad to offer bread, soup, get-me-inside-you thick orange sweet tea, and a comforting arm, a shower, and help for nay who came asking. Joe was different though, and even on first meeting we knew that we had a battle on our hands.
When Joe first came to us he looked as though he was a tired worn out, slightly down on his luck salesman who had been all night on the road. His suit was crumpled, his tie slightly to one side, and he needed a shave and a shower, but at that time he still clung onto a sense of dignity; desperately clinging onto it as if it a good luck talisman close by his side. He didn’t say much, either inside the consultation room or in the main reception area, and we noticed that after his private discussion an air of sadness hung about both him, and the counselors, that he had been talking to. He just accepted the food that was on offer to him, murmured a few words of hesitant appreciation, and then looked around him with frightened and anxious eyes.
Then Joe really began to slide.
First the tie went; the counselors tried even harder, and then came the beard, and the torn suit jacket, and finally his self imposed isolation from all those who sat around him, or tried to draw him back into the fold.
Then he came less frequently, then he stopped coming completely, and finally only the inner core of counselors knew what fate befell him, but the one thing that never changed were his eyes. They still stayed sky blue, they still looked just as lost and despairing as when we first saw them, and rather than fading into the distance as he drifted further they still radiated an increasing degree of hopelessness and shame.
When we think of the homeless at Christmas we think of warm drop in centres, or tables of donated food, and of a brief interlude where such individuals can at least have a few moments of pleasure, but the next time you see an old bundle of rags lying crumpled over a warm air vent, or more likely lying wet and half frozen on a park bench or amidst a stack of empty rubbish, think of what Christmas really means for some individuals, and if possible, try and ease their pain.
Merry Christmas everybody-have fun.
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- The empty chair (osborne2029.wordpress.com)
- The empty chair (sallynchainfo.wordpress.com)
- Desperate North East families face up to Christmas without a home (thejournal.co.uk)
- More than 80,000 children ‘set for homeless Christmas’ (itv.com)
- Shelter warns of surge in homeless this Christmas (itv.com)
- 500 calls a day to Shelter helpline (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)