What is the sound of one cracker being pulled? What about all the people who will be on their own at Christmas? What about those who don’t have a home, let alone a dining room?
About half a million people spend Christmas on their own each year. Some do this out of choice, preferring the solitude of their own company to the forced merriment of others. Some do not. Many people are just isolated, alienated, forgotten or abandoned. The overcrowded noisiness of our busy, prosperous culture can be the loneliest place on earth. Some people can go through a whole day with very little human contact. Everything is automated. We interact with our computers and our phones, but not with each other. We know the names of those who live in Albert Square. We’ve barely spoken to our own next door neighbour.
There’s another vast number of people who don’t have any home at all. Nobody is sure how many, but last Christmas the charity Crisis served 35, 000 meals in it’s shelters across London. Then there are half a million or so ‘hidden homeless’: people living in squats and bedsit, families in temporary accommodation, people sleeping on a friend’s sofa.
What is the one thing everyone remembers from the Christmas story? There was no room at the inn. God entered the world through the experience of homelessness and the rejection and isolation that goes with it. How can we reach out to those whose experience is the same today?
On Tuesday, after I had walked Beth home from GB I decided not to take the shortest route home, which meant walking up a dark, quiet road. Instead I took a longer way, which included walking up a main shopping road. It was about 10pm, and all but the mini-supermarkets and fast food restaurants were closed. As I was walking, I saw a guy sitting in the doorway of a shop covered with a duvet on the opposite side of the road. It was a cold night, but he was merrily chatting away to the few passers-by. At first I hurried by, eager to get home and buy a few bits from Tesco before they shut. However, after coming out of Tesco, my conscience got the better of my and I couldn’t walk away.
Anyway, I got Bob* and his friend some milk, (he asked for it) and sat down in the doorway next to them for a chat. The first thing I could smell was beer, which I can’t stand the smell of, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt (A lot of homeless people drink just so they don’t feel the cold as much.) and we had a good ole chat. Bob started telling me about this ‘squat’ that they’d discovered, how big it was, what it looked like etc, and how it even had running water. After a good hour, he was dying to show me this house, so once I promised I’d come along and have a look. (Yes, it was crazy but he was really friendly, if a little drunk.)
After an hour of sitting with Bob and Charlie* in a smelly, damp upstairs “bedroom” of this house (which was in fact every bit as awesome as Bob said… though it was now derelict and pretty dark by that point) with only a few small candles for light and warmth, I made my exit and headed home. Once I was out in the fresh air, I stopped for a moment to gather myself. Had that really just happened? It was perhaps the most surreal experience of my life, and yet the most human. I had never imagined, at the start of the day, that I would end it sitting in a dark, smelly, squat house with a few homeless blokes, and yet I had never been so comfortable with complete strangers. I have experienced poverty, but never so close to my own home. I don’t think I had ever relied as fully on the strength of God as during that hour.
* Yes they’re fake names. I don’t want to get him into trouble.
DNCIC recommendations for today:
• Do you know anyone who might be alone this Christmas?
• What could you do to offer them company?
• Find out about what happens in your local community to support homeless people. As well as national charities like Crisis and Shelter there are often local projects and centres that need support. Offer them some help. Take them some food and warm clothing.
“The greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no-one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta