This time I’m officially late for my own link-up, and I have no excuse – you’ll have to accept that it’s who I am as a person.
It’s actually not.
Okay, it actually is. Anxiety has been kicking my butt for the last couple of weeks, and I’ve had some pretty sucky days. Sometimes there have been specific triggers (not sharing) and sometimes it’s been nothing in particular. And some of the time it’s been that I’ve had a teeny-tiny summer cold, which knocked me utterly for six, and left me overwrought, exhausted, and unable to do anything upon getting home, bar fall into bed and sleep nightmare-filled anxiety dreams. Irregardless*, the show must go on, and the point of this thankful gig is that we remember that there are ALWAYS things for which to be grateful. Or people for whom to be thankful. And that there are most definitely at least a handful of silver linings to brighten the darkest time, even if it takes a few hours extra to realise that and be able to write them. HERE I GO!
Firstly, WE HAVE A WINNAH! Remember I for ages tried to get you all to vote on the new banner, and at first no-one did, and then you ALL DID, and then I ran out of time to do anything with it? Well I’ve done something with it – many congratulations to The Bipolar Mama, whose entry won with a landslide of votes, and whose image has now been turned into the banner we will (as of next week) use for the forseeable future.
Secondly – yes, good things happened this week in amongst the crappinesses. There were times with people I adore. There were Skypes and WhatsApps and photos and messages and they kept me from going utterly out of my mind. And there were naps for when I did utterly go out of my mind, and awake was too much and I just couldn’t.
Thirdly there were some things which were good for my (ever-fluctuating and constantly spun-glass fragile) ego, like a bed-head selfie after one of the naps, which drew some very favourable responses, and a body-measuring-with-an-electrical-current thing today, which gave me some really, really positive statistics. Undeniable ones. By science. A one in the eye for my eating disorder (which, yes, with all the anxiety, has been causing issues – no I haven’t reintroduced added sugar/sweet treats into my diet, but I do have a PLAN to, which will actively combat my fears around this, so that’s a start).
Fourthly I have an article being published in the UK’s largest street magazine, The Big Issue, next week. It’s just a very small couple of hundred words with a professional slant, but I’m SUPER excited about it, and I have networked myself some contacts, so that’s AWESOME.
And then there was my conference today, for work, which went really well and was great fun, but afterwards – that was the bit which really stood out for me:
We were in a big hotel and they provided food – chocolate chip cookies (and a non-sugar version of same) and fresh fruit all day, and a buffet lunch. At the end of the day there were still LOADS of cookies (mostly the non-sugar, natch) and some fruit left. So I asked nicely if there was a policy which meant they would be thrown away, or whether the nice guy-behind-the-table minded if I took them up into town to give out to the homeless people I know fill so many doorways there.
He looked surprised, but pleasantly so, and very kindly acquiesced. Which is AWESOME because often big corporations aren’t keen on getting involved, so far as my experience suggests, and he even went off to find me some bags to put the food into.
Off I went, and there – there in the sun-baked streets, at knee-level, on filthy sleeping bags, with unkempt hair, and tobacco-stained fingers – were the rest of my thankfuls.
I’m thankful for Stitch, who told me that mostly what’s useful is cash for a hostel for the night. People buy him food and coffee all day, but he needs somewhere to sleep. And t-shirts (if I had any). He took some cookies as an afterthought, but isn’t really a fruit guy.
He pointed me across the street to Jenny, who LOVED fruit, and lifted an apple to her nose and sniffed it with an expression of pure rapture, and we chatted a while. She said she would take the rest of the fruit if I had any left after my travels. She smiled and wished me well.
The Scottish guy outside the mall was VERY thankful for the cookies, and I’m glad for him, because he took a handful of them and told me that he’d be fine as long as the police didn’t keep pestering him. I told him to give them a cookie if they tried, and we shared a grin.
The Big Issue seller took two cookies and was very happy to stop and chat for a moment, but I didn’t want to stop him from making a sale, so I didn’t spend long with him.
There was a lady in a doorway with scarred arms, who took fruit but not cookies, and called her friend Mick over, who took cookies but not fruit. She smiled at a little kid as he walked past, and then Mick told me he’d be going to hospital later, as he was afraid he had appendicitis.
The slurry old man with the big beard was great fun, and his mate (a joker in bare feet) who tried to get me to guard his bike while I was trying to offer cookies (he then decided to take the bike with him, as it would be quicker) was a HOOT, and also maybe drunk. But the slurry old man didn’t want cookies because last time he had some he got a stomach upset. So that was that, but we sat and chatted a while about diabetes and why I do eye-screening.
I returned to the Scots guy because his cookies were gone. He took some more once I’d sourced a plastic bag from a nearby fruit’n’veg stall, buying plums and bananas for Jenny to do so (because they’re not allowed to give out bags, by policy, but she did give me an extra one when I bought fruit), and he eagerly scooped them in, whilst exclaiming to me that he’d eaten all the others!
I was a bit concerned about the guy with a prosthetic leg, as he was trembling so badly, but he seemed to be coherent enough, and was HUGELY grateful for the remainder of the cookies. Someone had just bought him a hot-dog, and his phone went off as we were talking. He fumbled the phone and the hot-dog and nearly dropped everything in his lap, but was alright.
Then I went back to Jenny and gave her the fruit, and sat down to chat with her, and I’m thankfuller than ANYTHING for that.
I learned that she’s been on the streets for five weeks, and the homeless community in my city is strong and wonderful. Some of the guys even have their own language of whistles, so they can communicate from far away. I learned that there is plenty in place for the under-25’s, but that the older homeless “just have to suck it up”. People buy her take-aways from Burger King (because it’s easy) and she hates them, so she passes them on. She just doesn’t like that kind of thing in her body, but she LOVED the fruit. Seriously loved it.
I learned that her Polish friend (whose name I didn’t catch) had fallen off scaffolding and busted his torso, and like that, was on the streets. I met Michelle, who spent most of her time slurping her frappucino, but who had been homeless for 14 years, and JUST LAST WEEK GOT A FLAT! I loved that I got to congratulate her, and that we all shared a moment of celebration. I felt honoured to be included in it. Michelle still comes down to spend her time with her street-friends – they are her people.
Jenny told me that homeless people need hot water bottles in winter, because in spite of all the blankets and sleeping bags, they can’t GET warm. She said that a lot of the churches will intermittently provide meals (cooked breakfast on Thursday mornings in town; hot dinner Sunday afternoons, beyond the shops) but that they don’t talk to one another, and sometimes there will be three meals available one day, and none the next.
There’s a day centre for homeless people, where you can have tea and coffee for 20p, and a cooked meal for £2, and there are showers and laundry facilities. Most of the people at the day centre are ex-homeless, but because this is their community, they nonetheless spend their time there. If anyone is really too hard-up to afford the food, the tea and coffee will be free, and they’ll be given baked beans.
The hardest thing is the mornings, from about 6:30, when they’re awake and hungry but nothing is open, and even when the first baker’s opens at 8, they can only get something if they can pay. They mill around and everyone comes to see Jenny, because she’s always there, in her stoop outside the shoe-shop.
I need to do something, and I’m thankful for the push. I need to take my head out of my ass, get myself in gear, and find ways to get breakfast to these people. I told Jenny I couldn’t guarantee anything, but that I would see what I could do. For now I’ve emailed my vicar at church to see if he can come up with something. Not prayer. Not discussion (or, not those things alone).
My dream is an urn of hot water, and fresh fruit and bread rolls, and thermos flasks to give to them to keep and come back to refill (the latter being Vince’s idea – having been homeless, he told me that when everything you own is carried on your back, you get a very strong sense of ‘what is yours’, and I would like them to have something which is theirs). My dream is to somehow find a way to make this happen, and to get up early and BE THERE for them, because I get a feeling that lots of people say they mean well, but that few put their money or their energy where their mouth is.
My dream is that they won’t all be on the streets for 14 years before they get somewhere to live, and that in the meantime they at least get breakfast. Reliably. Somehow.
Surely I can do that? Can’t I? I can. And I am determined to try my best for this wonderful woman who let me sit with her, and chatted to me wonderfully for 20 minutes. I don’t want to let her down, and I DO want to help. They matter to me.
I’m not a charity. I don’t have a GoFundMe, or any sensible idea of how to achieve this. But if you want to help, I take PayPal, and I WILL make a difference. I’ll even go to bed earlier so I can get up early for them. I have an abundance, and they have next to nothing. Surely an early start and a bit of breakfast is the LEAST I can do?
Time will tell, but I’m going to find it hard. The worthwhile kind of hard. I really, really want to do this.
I’ll leave you with some beautiful, haunting wisdom from Jenny, which is what I mulled as I took t-shirts across to Stitch, had a small chat with him, wished him well, and then cycled home, buzzing with ideas and huge, huge amounts of gratitude.
“The most useful thing of all is cash. I know there are some who will spend it on drink or drugs, but it took me a long time to realise they’re just hurting. Everyone’s hurting – some hurt for food or water or warmth; others for drink or drugs, but we’re all hurting, on the streets.”
*I just can’t, lovelies – not even as a joke!