It’s half term in our household, so this will be a briefer blog post and more top-of-the-head in style.
On Monday I spent an idyllic day at Kew Gardens. A lush, green, verdant day in the company of my lovely and lively family. On the way home, walking the short distance from the tube station to our front door, we passed a homeless man sitting on the steps outside Marks and Spencer’s.
I try always, at least, to acknowledge people who have no choice but to beg on the streets: with a greeting, a smile, or at least a meeting-of-the-eyes. Sometimes I may give them nothing else. There’s an ongoing debate within me about how, when, what and where it is most effective to give. But to meet someone’s eye seems like the minimum required by human decency.
Perhaps it was the juxtaposition between the blessings of a family day out and the loneliness and physical poverty of the man on the step. For whatever reason, my embarrassment outweighed my decency. I chose not to look that man in the eye. Or in fact to look at him properly at all.
But I reckoned without our five year old, who sees everything and processes what he sees out loud. ‘Mum,’ he said, as I pulled him hastily past, ‘There was a man there and he was asking for money because he had no money. And every time somebody gave him no money his voice got quieter and quieter, because he was SO SAD, because nobody was giving him anything he needed’.
‘His voice got quieter and quieter.’ Those words and the image they convey will stay with me for a long time. As I wonder how many voices, articulating how many basic needs, get quieter and quieter until they fade away: quite simply because nobody replies.