The slowing of the seasons brings with them a natural point of reflection and contemplation in our days. I personally find that as they days and nights grow colder, when darkness arrives early and the temperature suddenly drops, as shops begin to fill with decorations, and as we see those lovely cosy advertisements of warm, happy, fun filled, bountiful festivities reminding us to shop for good food at low prices, and to buy the latest gifts for our friends, families and loved ones, and ourselves, that the contrast between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ becomes starker.
I feel blessed to live where I live – a city with green spaces such as parks. It means that I can get away from the hustle and bustle of life and enjoy nature, but also that I’m not hiding myself away from or secluded from the harsher realities of other people’s lives.
In one day, walking through my city, I could have spent some peaceful times of solitude reflecting upon beautiful autumn and winter scenes in the park, watching squirrels and ducks, and maybe stopping for a coffee or going for lunch or to the shops with friends, in any one of numerous locations. But I also will inevitably walk past a number of homeless people, those who are cold, vulnerable, forgotten, lonely, with nowhere to go and nothing to eat. Sometimes I will stop and talk to one of them or offer some food or give out a pre-prepared ‘care package’ that I’ve made, and give what I can as I am able and when it is safe to do so. (Obviously it’s important to keep ourselves safe, and to be aware that not everyone is genuine, therefore I am careful to either help via homeless charities, and / or to help directly when in well lit places, near shops and where other people are coming and going, because I feel that is safer for a young woman to do so, and to do so in daylight, or if in the evening, only when I am in company with friends for example).
I feel blessed to have these contrasting perspectives. It is lovely to spend time in beautiful places, enjoying ‘the good life’ even if that is in the simple things such as a walk in the park, lunch with a friend, taking photographs of wildlife, going to the cinema or wandering around the shops to do some window shopping. It’s also lovely as Christmas approaches to enjoy the variety of Christmas markets in my city and other neighbouring cities that are only an hour or so travel time away. However, some of my most poignant memories of going to these lovely, bright, beautiful, cosy and festive Christmas markets, stocked with handmade goodies, with delicious smells wafting invitingly by, are those of seeing the people at the edges, at the fringes, hoping for some compassion, and knowing that they will be forgotten about, overlooked, and maybe even that they may not make it through the night as the temperature falls. While my friends, family and I can enjoy the outdoor fun because we know we will have a warm place to go afterwards, many all around us do not.
Even if you aren’t face to face with those who are marginalised and suffering and unable to meet their daily and basic needs, for whatever reason they find themselves in that position, we are still all part of a world, a society in which those who have far less than us exist.
It can be easy to feel ‘guilty’ for enjoying what we can, or for feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Yes, I know that problems of homelessness and so forth exist all year around, however, I feel that it must be so much more painful during certain times of the year when those sitting on the pavements of our cities see everyone else frivolously throwing their money away on unnecessary frivolities, things they don’t care for or need, and enjoying themselves in a way that is more apparent than during other months.
I can’t imagine how hard that must be for someone watching on, hoping for a scrap of food, human contact or some small offering of compassion.
I know some people have their views and judgements and stereotypes, but I prefer not to judge why someone is in the position they are in. Rather, I think “There but for the Grace of God go I” and in such a situation what would I want my fellow human beings to do?
There is a lot that we just cannot do. However, don’t let that discourage you.
Think of all the many good things you can do, or be involved in, and even if you do ‘just’ one thing, that will mean something to someone, and that someone matters as much as you do. If each one of us adds one act of kindness for someone in need this season in addition to all the gifts we give to people we know and love, think of the difference that will make to those who otherwise would be forgotten, marginalised, lost, alone, hungry, cold and in need of some human kindness.