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.
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.