I can’t really write about other people specifically.
It’s a kind of code I have, part instinctive and part logical.
People are sacred, and their lives are sacred, and just as I wouldn’t publish a photo of them online or draw them without their permission, so I wouldn’t write about them. But I want to write about how a person looked like Hope to me tonight. Though even as I do, I pray that God will protect him and keep him from the path of self-destruction and give HIM hope and a way ahead.
Two weeks ago I was on my way home from church, through the churchyard, when I saw him. I think I had seen him the night before, but in the dark it had just looked like binbags under a tree. Now I could see his boots.
Other people had seen him- they’d treated his prone heap like a kind of shrine- leaving a little handful of small change; a packet of rich-tea-biscuits; a full mug of coffee; a packet of sandwiches… all a couple of feet away, in a ring. All untouched.
That was what worried me most, we have rough-sleepers, but all of the things around him were untouched and the wind was cold and the rain horizontal.
I probably should have just phoned 999. It took me 15 minutes to rouse him… I spent several hours with him in A&E waiting… where he did not want to be, and eventually when he was seen I had to leave and go home to my family. And I felt guilty. Guilty for disturbing him when he probably wanted to slip off this mortal coil. Guilty for making him go in the ambulance. Guilty for seeing him in that state. Guilty for shepherding him like a tree about to fall, in and out of the other A&E people, as he asked for a cigarette and then nearly threw up. And guilty for leaving him after 4 hours, in the care of professionals.
My husband rounded up his sodden belongings and put them through the washer and dryer at the laundrette; and then took them back to A&E.
Two weeks later, the candles are lit inside the Minster as we prepare for evensong, the Advent Sequence, and I, like a spoilt child am all upset that I was supposed to sing the role of cantor but the choir master hasn’t spoken to the clergy and now is set to do it… and he did it well… apart from the prayer… anyway, grumpy priest has had her candle snuffed… But as we prepare there is a stranger waiting for the service… With the ominous presence of a bailiff or an angel. I pass by. And then I look back – it is really his coat I recognise, I spent so long with my hand on it then, keeping his balance, and something around his eyes… We look at each other and only as I walk further do I realise for certain… it is him and he is tall and clean and alive!
I don’t know that I would have been more surprised to see Jesus himself. Though to be frank, at certain moments, a lot of people look to me like Jesus.
I didn’t go and speak to him, because what would I say. I am stunned. I will keep praying for him; but really I hope that he might pray for me, because I felt nothing but foolish and guilty for the help I tried to offer and the little I could do. And now by his presence, he has done more for me than I did for him. I hope he lives, so much. And I hope that he finds good purpose for his life; because it would mean so much to me… isn’t that selfish?
P.S. When we were sitting in the ambulance two weeks ago, and by the way everybody knew him, in the ambulance and A&E and in all the hostels he’d been kicked out of… when we were sitting there in the ambulance and the paramedic asked him for his date of birth he joked with a sly glance at my dog collar that he was actually two thousand years old. We both knew he was joking he and I… but Christ knows too that on another level he was not.