Over the holiday season, a friend who had been lost to the organised world for a couple of years was found and stayed with us for a time. Behind the cheery smile and sense of fun, his life had imploded in some way and he had vanished and become homeless. Quite why that happened we do not know yet, and it’s not really the time or our place to ask. People recovering from that situation want love and acceptance without questions. To be valued without examination or investigation. It is very easy to be insensitive to the very vulnerable. Our everyday jostlings bruise them in a way which many find incomprehensible but there is another side to it.
After a time with us, being celebrated, clothed, fed and showered, he began to talk more about his life on the streets. The stories were breathtaking, and chilling at the same time, but there was something else. He explained how he walked around slowly starving, and getting periodically soaked by rainfalls. Out of the blue some other homeless guy noticed him and took him under his wing. Hot meals became available. Medical examinations, clothing supplies, the occasional bed. The concrete wilderness suddenly seemed a warren full of opportunities.
He told us, with growing enthusiasm, of the places you needed to go on a Tuesday, or Friday to get a free meal and a wash. Which buses moved all night so you could settle in and have a nice nap and the rest of it. If you had the chance to read his experiences before you became homeless food and shelter, to some degree, would be yours for the taking. He had become an expert in his field: the man to know.A person who would help you achieve your new goal: survival.
In some bizarre way, in this area of life, he had become like an experienced merchant banker or consultant who made sense of topics obscure to the mass of us, and showed us opportunities where we saw only threats. The main difference was that no one wants his expertise or will pay for his clearly evident ability , while a merchant banker has the greedy and astute banging on his door. He made me realise that most of us have power and ability in some measure, but that you need one to demonstrate the other. In that unlit, unsortafter world he had begun to discover himself.
Somehow questions kept moving through my head. How could a man of such opportunistic energy end up apparently potless and friendless. How flawed are our apparently deepest friendships when it comes to admitting real needs and problems. Who do I really know. I have no answers but I have some gratitude for a man who came, literally out of nowhere and made me think so much. Who made that twilight world between housekeeping and destitution more visible to me. Who gave me a brief view of a life which is eked out in the wilderness. Who showed tenderness and warmth to a world which had done him few favours. Who was more like me than it is comfortable to admit.