Yesterday I had lunch seated outside a restaurant in a quiet central London street. While I sat there a man approached me begging for money. I didn't even look at him directly, shook my head and looked away.
A second later I felt ashamed. Ashamed of reacting this way. What was I afraid of when I saw him? I noticed he didn't smell too great and he looked rather dodgy. I suppose so would I if I had to live on the streets.
My first instinct was to scramble for my bag and pull it protectively towards me until I heard him say 'I'm not going steal your bag, love'. His blatant declaration that he was not going to steal lowered the instantaneous wall that had come up around me.
He stopped at another table and that allowed me the time to recollect myself ask if he'd like to have the huge salad that I had just received instead of money.
I knew he would say no and that he just needed some money for something else, I believe for drugs (though I could be wrong). The constant looks from the waitress eventually saw him scurry away, annoyed and in knowledge that he wasn't wanted there - like a street mouse.
It was a shame he left before I could finish speaking to him. I'm not quite sure what I would have said to him. What would I ask him? I was still fearful that he might do something to me. Would his supposed drug addiction be contagious? Could his homelessness be catching? I"m not sure what I was afraid of or indeed what he was capable of. I was afraid to ask him what I really wanted to - What are you up to? What brought you here? Why are you begging on the streets of London?
To do the work I am embarking on the first thing I need to do is to shed these preconceptions. Break through my own walls to see past the outer layer and be able to see them as a person, as a soul in need of healing too .
A conversation might have provided him with a much needed person to see him, to hear him. I'll never know.
What it did inspire is a long conversation I had with the waitress who was shooing him away like a pigeon, in her mind protecting her customers so that they could eat in peace in denial of this kind of reality.
Her own son was ill. He has schizophrenia and she was beside herself with worry. He didn't come home at times and this man who begged may well have been her son. The doctors won't keep him unless he himself decides he needs to. She felt helpless She needed to download and she got to with me.
Having just moved back to London much to my dismay I am seeing a society that still rejects the mentally ill, runs away from them. hides from them and dismisses them.
That means every individual rejecting these people, isolating them even further and pushing them deeper into a life of self-destruction and possibly/most probably crime.
I came away last night thinking 2 people came close to me with problems that seemed beyond my ability to do anything about.
I'm not a doctor or social services. I am however conscious of the fact that if I can make each individual I come in contact with feel seen, heard and feel that they are a human being worth bothering with I can begin to imagine the ripple effect.
Not being heard and seen can lead to enormous frustrations and feelings of unworthiness. Feelings that fester, bubble and then can burst unexpectedly causing harm to anyone that is around and especially themselves a great deal of harm. I know that all too well in my own life.
In honour of today, Nelson Mandela day, I urge your too to make it a point not to ignore or disregard anyone no matter who they are. Acknowledge them, notice how it feels when you yourself are acknowledged and watch the ripple effect of a Gentle World spreading.