Christmas is a time for giving. But we should remember that the spirit of Christmas isn’t limited to our family and friends. Joss at The Crowing Crone recently posted an article called Christmas Plea, where she encouraged readers to take 5 minutes out of their busy daily lives to give thought to those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
I’m a firm believer in the power of positive thought and the Pay It Forward principle. This is a very simple method of performing an act of kindness to a minimum of one person every day. A smile, a “thank you”, asking someone how their day is going, opening a door for someone…etc. The hope is that one act of kindness will encourage the other person to do likewise to the next person, and so on.
Today I shared my Christmas spirit with someone and Paid It Forward.
Like so many countries the UK has it’s share of homeless people. I dare anyone to walk through a town or city and not see a lost soul. How many of us have hurried by a dishevelled person with their hands outstretched in hope for an impossible act of charity? Or how many of us have muttered something along the lines of: “Sorry, I don’t have any change”? Even those of us who claim to be very charitable have a limit, so I beg you not to lie to your screen and mutter something like: “I always give to charity” or “I do everything I can” blah blah blah and blah!
We ignore 99% of homeless people. It’s a fact.
Shame on all of us.
I’ve been there myself. I’m dashing through my day, busy with thoughts of what comes next, shaking my head at a homeless face as they approach me. And later I feel guilty for not taking even a moment to acknowledge them. There are those who have strong views on the homeless. I myself have often wondered how anyone can sit on a rag with a sign or hat, begging for money, whilst they have a dog laying next to them and a cigarette between their lips. And then I’ll see a gaggle of homeless people in a park, drinking cheap cider (or worse) and laughing.
How can they afford a dog? Or cigarettes? Or booze?
Why don’t they do something to help themselves?
Why do they smell so bad?
And so we walk on by.
But that’s not a good reason for not stopping to show charity is it? And charity doesn’t have to involve dishing out a few coins. We can do other things to help those who don’t have anything other than a doorway to sleep in and a bit of cardboard for shelter, or no shelter in many cases.
In the UK we have a magazine called The Big Issue. It’s sold by homeless folk. They buy copies and take a cut of the profits from each magazine they sell. We see them on the streets in almost every town and city, ID swinging around their necks, yellow bib, smiling and waving a copy of the latest issue. Now I think this is amazing and I applaud these people who push themselves to try their hardest to improve their life.
I’ve been very busy today, mounds of paperwork at work, car stuff, money stuff, bank stuff, hungry missed-my-lunch-stuff, traffic stuff. So much stuff to do that I barely looked at anyone as I walked along the chilly afternoon street in my local town. I was examining my phone, lists of stuff, so many lists! Not that I mind. I love being busy because it makes those quiet moments all the more precious and enjoyable.
From the corner of my eye I see the bright yellow bib of someone waving a magazine at folk walking the street. I don’t avoid the person, I’m just so focussed on what’s next that I don’t even notice him until after I’ve gone in to the bakers for a cheese and onion pasty.
When I come out of the bakers I stand and eat my hot yummy pasty. I spot The Big Issue guy waving his magazine in the air, calling out the words: “Issue. Getchor Big Issue.” It takes me a couple of minutes to eat my pasty in which time maybe 50 people have walked by. Not one of them buys a copy. I notice hardly anyone looks at the smiling man.
How can a homeless guy be so happy when no one will even look at him?
I stroll over and he beams at me. He asks if I want a copy. I nod and say: “Sure, most folk don’t realise there’s actually some good articles in it.” He laughs and says it’s because people buy them out of guilt and throw them away as soon as possible.
I ask how much.
“Wow. It’s gone up. Used to be £1.75 didn’t it?”
“Christmas issue,” he says. He points to the cover. “It’s got an interview with Robert Downy Jnr in it,” he says with a hopeful expression.
I rummage in my pocket. It’s heavy with a ton of coins but I’m not sure there’s exactly £3 there. I start counting the 50 pence’s and 20’s and 10’s. It’s not enough and I feel terrible. I always have loose change in my bag for parking meters and stuff. I tell the guy to hold out his hands and I dump all my change into them. It’s a mound. I cast my eye over it and know there’s about £9 in change there, maybe more.
I don’t care. I feel bad that I’d rather be rid of the heavy change in my pocket than have it rattling around. The Big Issue guy starts to count out enough change to make the £3 but I laugh and shake my head. “Don’t worry about it,” I tell him. “Keep it.”
“Really?” asks the Big Issue guy with a frown. “You sure about that mate?”
“Yeah. No worries.”
Big smile. We’re talking ear to ear. A huge head hinge! He’s very happy. “Thank you my good friend. Thank you so much. You’re a kind soul.”
“My pleasure,” I reply and he hands me a copy of The Big Issue.
“You have a good Christmas mate,” he says to me as I walk away.
“You too!” I reply.
I get half way down the street and I stop. I don’t earn much money from my day job. Honestly. Just barely enough to cover bills and seldom much for luxuries. But I know that The Big Issue guy is worse off than me. So I withdraw a £10 note from the ATM and head for a nearby Fish & Chip shop. I buy a large bag of chips, a sausage, 2 slices of bread and some ketchup.
This isn’t for me you understand.
It’s for The Big Issue guy.
It’s been freezing cold all day and he must have been stood on the street for several hours.
He’s stunned when I hold out the fish & chips to him. His cheery smile has gone. He looks panicked and I wonder if I’ve just insulted him. I’ve made huge mistake. For a moment I thought he was going to burst into tears.
So I push the hot meal into his hands and slap him on the arm. “Merry Christmas, mate.”
I walk away before either of us can say anything else. It’s quite emotional stuff.
Before I round the corner I hear him call out: “Merry Christmas to you my good friend! Merry Christmas to you all!”
Human contact means a lot.
That one act of kindness was all it took to lift his spirit.
So next time you see a homeless person, don’t ignore them, don’t throw a few pennies at them in disgust. Speak to them. They’re not animals you know. They might be smelly and have bad teeth, but wouldn’t you be if you were forced into that life? Who are we to judge anyone? We have no right to judge those who have nothing. We don’t know them or their story.
I have a roof over my head at night.I’m warm. I have something to eat. I have water to drink and bathe. I have a change of clothes. A bed. A TV. A PC. A Playstation 3. I even have a fucking Kindle. Books aren’t good enough for me, I have to read them on a gadget. I have good friends I can laugh, cry, argue and talk with.
For all I know that Big Issue guy has no bed at night. He is cold. He has very little to eat and drink. He may sleep in the same clothes he wears all day. His bed might be a hedge, a shop doorway or a piece of cardboard. The only TV he gets to watch is on in a shop window. He has bigger problems than buying and playing a games machine or reading a digital book. And how may friends does he have? How many people does he talk to in a day other than customers buying The Big Issue? I figure it’s pretty lonely being homeless.
It’s this vast difference that makes me feel sick when people avoid the homeless like they’re filthy scroungers.
I don’t want to come across all righteous just because I gave a homeless guy a hot meal, but if we all made even the smallest connection then Christmas for those less fortunate than us might be slightly brighter.
Please don’t walk on by.
And the interview with Robert Downey Jnr was really quite good!