How often do you pass a homeless person or someone selling the Big Issue in the street and give them not another thought?
Despite my self-image as a caring person I’m just as guilty. Just before Christmas I was out shopping. Amongst several other places I visited an out of town Marks and Spencer store outside which a young woman in a headscarf was selling the Big Issue. I went into M&S several times in my usual pre-Christmas fog. On one occasion I gave the young woman a pound and carried on with my shopping.
As I was leaving the store on the third occasion-after having eventually spent £150-the woman gestured for me to buy the magazine and I realized she had forgotten I had already made a contribution. I was about to wave at her and walk away when I suddenly realized that she had been standing in the cold for several hours, presumably without a break or food and drink. I doubled back and on impulse asked if she would like a tea or coffee, my next port of call.
Her reaction touched me deeply, she looked completely taken aback and at first she didn’t know what to say. Then she said ‘I’d love a hot chocolate’. I told her I wouldn’t be long and brought back a hot chocolate and warmed chocolate muffin. She was clearly very grateful and wished me ‘God Bless’.
Afterwards I felt utterly overcome with emotion and somewhat ashamed of myself. This was the most important action I had taken on that or any other day I could think of for a very long time. The opposite of the Biblical story of the widow’s mite, which was all she had to give, I gave nothing when I had so much. I didn’t know the woman’s story or where she was from but it didn’t matter, no one stands in the cold for that long being generally ignored by passers-by unless they are desperate. I was the one who should have been grateful for the chance to do something, though it was hardly enough.
I’d like to start a campaign called ‘buy a hot drink’. Next time you pass a person in need in the street on your way to a coffee shop, just spare a few coins and a little comfort. Perhaps ask them about their life and do it again, and again and again…..