But I CAN help THIS one (a #1000Speak story)

I’m being haunted by a man I met at Christmas. I’ll call him Edward, even though you and I both know that’s not his real name. I met him the day after Christmas, when Husby and I were helping to serve food at the Community Cafe (where the homeless and lonely can go for some food and companionship, and at Christmas, for sweets and games and a beautifully decorated place which is just for them.)

1000Speak

Edward was quiet. He’d been sitting and chatting earnestly with one of the volunteers at another table. I was minding a tableful of bawdy, lively blokes, and once Husby had them all involved in a raucous game of Jenga, over dessert, I grabbed a platter full of cakes and started making the rounds of the room.

Edward looked quietly delighted with his piece of cake, yet when (after having been around the room once and stopped to replenish my tray with fresh offerings filled with sugar and cream) I offered him a second piece, he declined, very politely, though his eyes were filled with longing.

The cakes were so popular that I think I went around the room three or four times, checking that everyone had all they wanted. There were boxes and boxes of cakes to be used, and I’d been told to encourage people to indulge “after all, it’s FOR them – it would be such a shame for anything to go to waste!”. Edward steadfastly refused more, though he looked increasingly wistful each time he said no.

Eventually I wore him down with logic and insistence. He had another piece, and enjoyed it just as much as the first.

Later, I made a point of going to sit and talk with him, because he had captured my imagination, and I wanted to know more about this quiet, unassuming man, who wore his loneliness like his faded but neat (and mercifully not smelly (not the case for all of the guests!!)) clothes. What brings a polite, middle-aged man, with shoulder-length silver hair and a high-vis jacket to a free lunch where he then refuses the cake?

I learned, and learned hard.

Edward told me that he goes to the church which takes place in the building when it’s not being used for the cafe. He said he thought the people there probably didn’t like him very much, because he talks excessively, and he hates doing that, but just can’t bring himself to stop – it’s the first timeΒ  (the only time?) he has contact each week with another human who is genuinely interested in HIM. So he talks their ear off. He’s aware of it, and so to avoid being an irritation, he tries to talk to a new person each week, just so the same person doesn’t have to put up with him repeatedly.

He writes long letters to his brother, pouring his heart and soul onto the page as an outlet – a release for all the thoughts which are stuck in his head with no-one to listen to them. He thinks his brother doesn’t like him, and probably doesn’t even read the letters, because the written responses (when they come) are perfunctory, and not in any way tied to the things Edward told him.

At home, Edward’s room is black with mould. There’s damp, but the landlord won’t fix it. There are mice, too, and the whole house is a mess. The other people who live there aren’t very nice, or don’t speak English. He’s tried making friends with a couple of the foreign ones, but they don’t seem that willing to include him. Or able, because of the communication gap, butΒ  sometimes Edward gets a smile from one of them as they pass in the hallways. Some days he just stays in bed because it’s too cold to get up, and there’s nothing to do.

Edward started telling me he should go. He told me he’d eaten enough sandwiches and cake to last him the rest of the day, and probably the day after, as well. Which was a good thing, because what he had at home wasn’t nearly as nice. Or as much.

A volunteer came round and offered Edward a bag of food to take away with him. He demurred, saying that he couldn’t possibly – he’d had plenty, but thank you so much for the offer. The volunteer insisted and eventually convinced Edward to take the food.

“I almost wish I hadn’t come here today” he told me, with a wry tone of voice “it’s been so lovely, and so warm, and so nice to speak to people that I HATE the thought of going home. Going back to that place is so much harder, having been somewhere like here.”

Edward was eventually prevailed upon to take some sandwiches with him, for his evening meal. He told me he’d probably have half tonight, and then half tomorrow, to spread it out.

And then he thanked me for taking the time to talk with him, and left, bound for a dwelling and an existence so awful he would almost rather stay in it than experience the pain of juxtaposition against a few hours of ‘good’ living.

Now he won’t leave my thoughts. He’s there almost every day, with his sad eyes and his longing, his desperate need for connection, his shunnedness, and his desire not to be an imposition.

He fuels my desire to HELP, because this world has so many Edwards in it. So many more than we know.

They all need help, and really, the world is full of lonely or sad people, and the number who are in awful situations just feels overwhelming. How can I do anything about that? I’m reminded of the story of the boy and the beach full of stranded starfish.

I might not be able to save the world, or even really change it much, but each time I see someone I can act towards with compassion, I see Edward’s face, and for his sake, I think “I CAN at least help THIS one”

I CAN help THIS one

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81 thoughts on “But I CAN help THIS one (a #1000Speak story)

  1. Pingback: Ten Things of Thankful #89 | Considerings

  2. Oddly enough, sometimes all it needs is a word, look or smile to bring cheer into someone’s day or even life, as in Edward’s case. We might have been doing something compassionate without even realising that we are. But when we are made aware, it makes it easier to do much more. Compassion comes in all forms and sizes. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Zephyr. He really had a HUGE impact on me, and I was saddened by his very simple words of how little he felt he matters. And how the people around him seem to sometimes treat him that way. It fuelled me to NOT do the same, and to DEFINITELY treat him like he matters. Because he does.

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  3. Pingback: It’s a Sin To Kill a Mockingbird | Her Headache

  4. It breaks my heart….hates going there because he has to go home….oh my heart.
    Thank you for being there for him – for listening to him…for making him feel like he mattered….because he does matter.
    I hope he keeps coming back and that he keeps talking.
    I don’t want him to ever stop talking to people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That bit really got to me, too. I just kept thinking how AWFUL it must be, if the disparity was so very painful *sigh* It’s no way to live. I hope he keeps talking and that people keep treating him with care and compassion. he DOES matter. I hope he knows it.

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  5. This is so very lovely, Lizzi. And I have to be honest, had it been one of your miraculous works of fiction I would have wanted to reached across the pond and virtually slapped you πŸ™‚ Because this HAS to be true. It has to be true that this man was there and you gave him a moment of attention. Made him feel like he mattered.

    Because he does. And that is awesome that while he thinks he is a bother or non-important or invisible you showed the world he (and others like him) are not. They all matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not this one, Kerri. This one’s utterly real. Except his name, which I changed, just in case. He absolutely SO VERY MUCH matters. And I would love to see him again somehow and tell him I wrote about him, and how people across the world took him into their hearts and hoped that he’d be okay, and were glad that he had somewhere with company and warmth and cake at Christmastime. I keep watching for him, in case I see him again somewhere.

      I hope he knows he matters *sigh*

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  6. Pingback: But I CAN help THIS one (a #1000Speak story) | ...

  7. Just having someone to listen to you and be genuinely interested in you – we forget how important it is when we have it. A beautiful post – a great reminder of ways giving just a bit of yourself can make the world of difference to someone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Louise. It was simple and enjoyable and this is the thing which I think can also be overlooked – these people can be FUN! They’re people, after all, with triumphs and challenges and stories and families somewhere and hopefully friends…and they can be fascinating to listen to and learn about. I think in the dull thoughts of ‘duty’ and ‘making a difference’ we can forget that the people we help can be so wonderful.

      There was a bloke at the beginning of the meal who didn’t stay for long enough (in my opinion) – he had a leather jacket, a red bandanna, and a HUGE staff with a skull on the top! It was AWESOME.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Poop! I hate when my comments get eaten. It happens when I open a page and then don’t get back to real reading for a day or so. Like in this case…
    This is exactly what I have thought and dismissed as too little and thought again and dismissed and thought again. But I think you’re right, that in the end, what we can do is help the person near us in the moment and hope it’s the beginning of a ripple. Though that’s not exactly why we do it.

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    • Refresh the page before you comment.

      And no, it’s not why we do it. And it’s not big, it’s not flashy. It’s small and almost inconsequential. And it matters. My interaction with Edward matters because it has changed ME.

      Do the small things and the big things will somehow take care of themselves, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I need to start volunteering somewhere, doing something. Of course, I always have an excuse for why I can’t – I’m too tired, I have too much work to do, I don’t know where to go, more compassionate people then me are already doing the good work, etc, etc, etc. The real issue is that, for all of my blustering, I’m rather socially awkward and I worry I would handle things badly or not know what to say. I did start carrying cases of water in my car – we live in a desert and it’s dry and hot – so I hand them out when I am stopped at an intersection and there is a pan-handler there in the heat with their little cardboard sign. It’s not much – but then again, baby steps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keep doing that. It’s an incredibly caring thing, and it’s WHAT YOU CAN MANAGE. It matters. It counts. You could be saving them from dehydration and kidney damage or sunstroke. That’s HUGE. GOOD FOR YOU πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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  10. Oh my heart. THIS! I am torn to pieces reading it, knowing that there are COUNTLESS Edwards everywhere… and if we each just take ONE in and care for that precious soul we encounter- I believe we COULD change the world.

    This is heartbrakingly beautiful, Lizzi. I’m so glad Edward has YOU in his life. Too many people… just too many precious people suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah but he doesn’t, Kitty. I saw him for one hour on that one day. And I’ve not seen him since. He just had such a profound impact on me that his story still tugs at my heart and rolls through my mind now and again.

      Yes…if only we all helped ONE. And the next one. Fed the hungry, clothed the naked, sheltered the cold, and protected the widow and the orphan…ain’t that the deal? In the end, we just have to LOVE one another, whoever that ‘another’ is.

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  11. Aw! That’s such a sad and touching story, Lizzi. Like you say, there are so many Edwards out there and we want to help them but it feels impossible. But it’s just one and maybe another after that, who knows? Your movement for compassion has certainly made a difference in awareness for people like Edward. I published my #1000Voices post today b/c I’m traveling tomorrow and won’t have access to my computer. It’s right on this very topic.

    Do you sparkle gold dust? Because your heart is made of solid gold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw that’s sweet of you, Lisa. My heart is made of gold and silver and wood and dirt, just like everyone’s. I’m just letting the shiny bits get seen a bit more, for once.

      When do you finish travelling? Do you want me to try to make sure you get into the linkie? It will be open for 48 hours over the 20th.

      I’m glad awareness is being raised. I want people to start NOTICING others, and NOTICING when they could be taking care of another person or making their lives a bit easier πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This tugs at my heart. I’m not sure what else to say except that it’s a sad yet beautiful story, and you and the volunteers surely made Edward feel less lonely and more connected with the world. This is what #1000Speak is all about. Thanks for sharing this with us, Lizzi. πŸ™‚

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    • I really hope so. I hope he felt worthwhile and interesting and valuable and like a PERSON. Because that’s something which I hate SO MUCH – the marginalisation of homeless people, and the way people (myself included) walk past as though they don’t exist, when we have nothing to give them. It pricks at my conscience when I do that and I feel like a terrible human. I should just give in and do SOMETHING, no matter how small.

      YES to this being what #1000Speak is all about. I want more people to care. THAT’S the point. More and more and more until EVERYONE cares for someone else, and we’re all looked after πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • It would be nice to think that between us all, the volunteers and the cafe was a high point in his week. I’d be saddened to think that it was a high point in his year, after all, if a community cafe one day after Christmas, filled with music and cake and drifters and do-gooders was his highlight, what would the rest of his year have looked like! It doesn’t bear thinking about!

      I’ve decided to just go with it – to accept that my nature is to make people’s lives better, if I can, in some small way.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I FEEL LIKE THAT SOMETIMES, Ohhhh let me tell you – the other week, Vince and I were in town, and I saw a homeless bloke on the street in a crappy little sleeping bag and I got *that* look in my eye, and took us into Costa to get him something. Behind me was a VERY well-dressed, made-up, perfect-perfect businesswoman, ordering somesuch to drink and eat. Her order was filled before ours and she left…then outside again, I discovered that she’d pipped me to the post, and had given the whatever she’d ordered to the guy across the street. Which made me VERY happy. So I just gave mine to the next one I saw. But it just pleased me NO END that there are truly other people out there who DO CARE πŸ™‚ It made me smile a whole lot.

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  13. I’ve always known you were a caring person but your story of Edward is truly heartwarming. I’m sure you mean the world to him and have made a huge difference in his life. I’d love to read more about Edward as time goes on and I hope you’ll keep us updated as time goes on.

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    • I haven’t got any more, Susan! I don’t know where he is now, or what he’s doing. I only saw him on that one day, for a few hours, and sat with him for one hour, and chatted. I hope he’s okay. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I somehow bump into him again.

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  14. After reading the post and the comments I’m convinced he needs a weekly or monthly guest post on a BLOG, where he will receive feedback from readers and get a little of the interaction he craves so badly. I am far from lonely yet getting blog comments totally makes my day. Also? You have to stop diminishing your part in helping Edward and the other people at this event. You were there, giving your time and your love and energy to help just like the other volunteers. You have an amazing heart, if only you knew it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jen, you and I are thinking alike here – I immediately felt that a blog would be absolutely THEE PERFECT THING…but how do you suggest a blog to a homeless person with no computer? I don’t even know the level of his computer skills, yaknow? I really wanted to say to him, but at the same time I didn’t want to do something stupid like highlight his deprivation.

      I tried my best. I can always do more, but I DID try. And I think (I hope) I DID help THIS one πŸ™‚

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  15. Oddly enough, Lizzi, my post for Friday is largely about a man I met just before Christmas, who still comes into my mind often for similar reasons. I don’t know, but I hope that just by listening to his story, to their stories, that it makes a difference. Sometimes you never can know what does or doesn’t make the difference. Someone contacted me recently to let me know that something I’d said to him almost 30 years ago let him know someone cared when he thought he was worth nothing.

    It’s easy to focus on what we haven’t done, but I am beginning to realise that makes me feel overwhelmed and guilty, and paradoxically less likely to do more. When I accept that I did my best, it means I feel more able to keep going. You (and the other volunteer) will have made some difference, giving him a sense of feeling cared for – if he is able to take that onboard. I think this is important to remember when we think we should do more – that trying to do more might just make the person feel overwhelmed and so withdraw. It sounds as if you got the balance and that, since he took the sandwiches, he has also absorbed the love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true. He did take the sandwiches. Thanks for that thought πŸ™‚

      I hope that he left feeling a little more as though he was worthwhile. He was such a lovely, gentle-seeming man. I know I only had a very small snapshot of him, but he didn’t seem malicious or frightening. And I did care.

      You’re right though – it’s not my place to fix everything, and I couldn’t possibly even if I tried!

      I DO have my story for Friday though πŸ™‚ I feel almost quite confident about it πŸ™‚ Looking forward to yours.

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  16. As crappy as it is, I’m glad he at least has a place to go to, four walls and a roof that shelter him. I hope there are steps he can take, baby steps, that will lead him to something better. He deserves better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hope so. I seem to recall that he became homeless because of some sort of mental breakdown. I can’t remember the specifics, but I’m not terribly confident in The System’s ability to help someone like that. I’ve seen it work against that kind of person all too often.

      But yes. Four walls and a roof are better than nothing *sigh*

      I hope he makes it out.

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  17. The title is perfect. It is so easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer number of needy people. But if everyone could each help, even in a small way, just one person, imagine the numbers that could be helped. I’m sure that man you helped was encouraged by your gestures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope he was πŸ™‚ I hope that the interest that I (and more so the other volunteer) took in him helped him to realise, even a little bit, that he’s someone worth listening to. And yes – I couldn’t agree more – if we ALL help one person (or a few ‘one person’s) then everyone gets helped in the end, and THAT’S the village.

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  18. This just breaks my heart You are so sweet to give him someone to talk to. It sounds to me like he has a lot to say. If he likes to write maybe he would like to keep journals as a way to get the words out. I know you said he writes to his brother but maybe he could just write. That’s the first thought I had…maybe he just has words and stories piled up in his head and wants to tell them. Who knows what he has to tell? See how my mind works? I have a picture in my head of this man, words and thoughts and ideas just swirling around in his brain and him needing to say them or, at the very least, write them out.
    Blah, blah, blah…listen to me ramble on. I just thought maybe you could hand him a journal. When he doesn’t have you or someone else to listen, he could write. You never know. Ya know?
    You’re very kind to be there for Edward. It makes me sad to think of someone being so lonesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, and as we talked, I thought of that too. I even asked him about it, because he seemed so intensely to be a writer…but no. Journals don’t do it for him because what he craved was the connection and the feedback. He told me that’s why he writes everything to his brother – in hopes of a response and that his words will be SEEN – and how much it upset him that his brother doesn’t seem to read his letters.

      What he needs (I am quite convinced, and SO nearly suggested to him) is a BLOG…but how do you say to a person evidently so lacking in resources “Oh, hey, you should get yourself online…” *sigh*

      Such a tough puzzle 😦

      And yes. His loneliness was awful and so sad.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was hard to write and to remember his sadness. I might have HELPED to make his day, but really he spent a lot longer with the other volunteer, and some of the other guests. I just pinged in at the end of his visit. I shouldn’t think I made a big impact πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have a shockingly bad habit of wanting to take people home. There was a lad in town the other day who couldn’t have been more than in his 20’s, shivering under a crappy little sleeping bag, with a hat out, with just some copper coins in it *sigh* I wanted to bring him home. He said that he was going to try to get himself sorted out, but I saw him out there again more recently and…ACK!

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  19. What a wonderful story and I am sure you made a huge difference in Edward’s life. It is important when experiences stay with you for awhile afterward. Maybe it means it is not the end of the story. Paying it forward and helping someone takes a beautiful heart, which you have. To make a difference. one person (starfish) at a time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I shouldn’t think I made a huge impact. Not the way he did on me. He spent a lot longer with one of the other volunteers, and had dinner with her. I really only pinged in near the end of his visit. Paying it forward is kind of my not-very-good way of mitigating the fact that I wish I could have done more for HIM.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. This is a bittersweet story, made sweeter because I know you will help Edward. Just having someone actually give a rat’s ass has got to be HUGE to someone like him. Hell, it’s huge to someone like me, so I can’t even imagine what it means to the Edwards of the world. You’re a kind, dear soul, Mrs. Lizzi. I’m proud to call you my friend, and even prouder to call you my blog wife. *hugs*

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    • I wish I could see him again. I guess I could try going to the church, to see if he’s there. I dunno. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. It felt like he represented all the lost souls of the entire world, and all I could do was offer him cake and a chat. But I did my best to let him know he mattered to me. We chatted for about an hour, in the end. I hope it helped. A bit.

      I felt so sad after speaking with him, and he really is still haunting me. I might ask my book man (because ‘Edward’ knew of him, even though they’re apparently not close) when I see him next, but the weather’s been rubbish and I haven’t even seen HIM! *sigh*

      I give lots of rats asses about you. About the Edwards, too, but definitely about you πŸ™‚ Making you feel proud of me is a really nice thing, and I’m glad that I’m able to do it *smiles*

      *hugs back*

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