I was thinking about plans for Christmas today. No idea why (oh yes, GG mentioned it last night) but I can’t believe it’s come round so quickly.
Last year, I decided to do something constructive with my time, so I volunteered to help out at Crisis Open Christmas, a UK charity that provides shelter and stuff for the homeless right the way through the holiday. With more than a little trepidation, I ended up doing a couple of 12 hour shifts on the 27th and 29th, ending at around 11pm, and got up to all sorts of fun – from security at the front gate to helping out in the entertainment tent. Other people were cooking, cutting hair, checking teeth… quite amazing the lengths that some of the volunteers went to.
It was an eye-opening, and chastening, experience and nothing at all like I expected it to be. There was no “us and them” – everyone mingled and chatted, and there was a sense of real camaraderie. The people staying in the shelter were grateful for the help, but didn’t feel in any way inferior because they were homeless and down on their luck. Or, for that matter, obligated to like us... in fact, it felt like we had to prove we were worthy to be there ourselves, in some way. And some of the stories were amazing, and thought provoking. Life can be turned on its head so easily. The series of events that clearly lead some of these guys to destitution, alcoholism, drugs and prostitution you could see happening, potentially, to absolutely anyone. And it really did feel a bit too close to home in some ways, remembering back not all that long ago, and what might - just might - have become the downward spiral that was the beginning of the end for so many of the people I was speaking to.
It really had a profound effect on me last year, and I’ll be putting my name down again. I don’t do nearly enough, most of the time, but this much I can do.