It is at this time of year that I find myself being at my most guilt ridden. While I am able to enjoy myself with all the fruits of the season and go out more or less when and where we want, I know perfectly well there are many who cannot. In fact I cannot miss them because I pass them on the street on transit between some exhibition and a nice meal, or perhaps the theatre. They are there, sitting on the hard, cold pavement, and too often I know that I pretend not to see, or see and try and forget. And time and time again, that is what I do.
I wish I had the courage to do differently and make the time to care more.
Now, I know I am not the only person who has issues with this, and I know it is not always clear. In some places there are begging rackets – I stopped feeling so bad in Brussels when I saw someone I had given money to standing later outside a supermarket smoking a cigarette and checking her iPhone.
But the young girl I gave money to last week in London honestly looked genuinely shocked to get anything, and I have no doubt she was not there out of choice. It was one of the few occasions where I have walked past but just had to go back and reach into my pocket.
You get conflicting messages about what to do, and I have no answers. I fully support the various NGOs that work in this area; because of where my heart is, particularly those like Centrepoint that look to get young people off the streets and try and find a way for them to get back on track in some way, no matter why they come to be in that state in the first place.
But age should not matter (even if I know it does, but that is a common human perception issue) and the issue is one all the year round, but it is especially acute at this time of year. I think that for me it must be that the gap just seems especially wide now, between those enjoying Christmas cheer and those on streets – or even in houses they cannot afford to heat – when the weather is at its most vile. There is a part of me that just wants to stop, and talk to people if I can, to find out why, to understand if there is something I can do beyond a few coins. It may be that all I will end up doing is to anguish over it and diligently pay my monthly subscriptions to the like of Shelter. I hope not. Like a lot of things that I feel should be better in my life, I hope that age and the confidence that it can bring will help me to learn what works and fro me to be better at understanding what it is that I can do to be most effective; because while I convict myself of the crime of looking the other way time after time, that is of no help to the person who might have benefitted from my assistance. I’m not in the right place yet, so it looks like another year where a feeling of discomfort is going to be underlying the joy and love that I experience. But that in the end is a light sentence. I know how blessed I am, I need to learn how to be a better blessing to others.