He wore an oversized suit, no matter what time of year it was, and he had sparse stringy hair and sported a long, grey beard. When he got his annual beard trim and haircut, and he looked kind of strange; like something was missing.
Like a furry dog that’s been shorn.
His shoulders were incredibly bony and rounded and I saw him about for years. He spent his days cruising up and down Bondi Road and he spent his nights in various bus shelters or under trees. For a time, he took to sheltering under the balcony at the front of our first floor apartment. This fact came to light as he was quite the mutterer. Sometimes shouty muttering and sometimes whispered, but lots and lots of chats went down in this guy’s head.
He had good days and bad days. Sometimes he smiled with his thin lips, showing his dirty, grey teeth and other times he just stared at the ground for hours upon hours, hand absently stroking his beard.
He had no belongings except a couple of plastic bags full of folded papers and other plastic bags, at least, that’s what they looked like to me. To him, they were his wordly treasures.
I always used to smile at him and say hi, but he never answered me back. He rarely made eye contact. He did start to stare at me, after months of me smiling a smile at him, so I took this as a form of welcome. One day I went over the road to our local IGA and I bought him a little bag of groceries. Baked beans, bread, fruit and yoghurt, nothing amazing, just a few things.
I went and gave him the bag as he sat under our balcony but he refused to take it from my hand. I gently left it at his feet and said –
This is for you, my friend
-and I walked upstairs. When I came out the following morning, the bag was still there, untouched, and my friend was nowhere to be seen.
I didn’t take it personally.
I’ve always been a ‘bring a stray home’ type, but my Mama was always a very compassionate person, and I learnt by observing her. My career started with kittens, and progressed to a kid from school having a hard time.
Mum let me keep them. Bless her.
If my Mama turned them away, or said rude things about foreigners (not the ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ ones, real ones) or homeless people, I’d probably have learned that.
Thank God my Mother has a great capacity for compassion.
I recently saw a friend display the most stunning compassion I think I’ve ever seen. She befriended a young single mum in a council flat that was riddled with mould and was causing devastating illness to this mum and her four year old daughter.
I watched my friend fight tooth and nail to get this story heard when the Department of Housing wasn’t listening. The government didn’t seem to care. After months of struggle, and a tox report 280,000 times higher than safe, now people are paying attention. I believe the 7.30 Report will be airing a story on Friday night.
My friend was tenacious, and she didn’t give in. She inspired others to help. At the cost of her own family’s time with her, she did not give in…… it’s still going on.
I don’t want to be all Captain Preachy Pants, but it’s really not rocket science. If we’re trying to teach our children these lovely human qualities like empathy, and sharing… monkey see, monkey do. Action is worth a gazillion words.
One of the biggest things we can teach our children about compassion is it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. I’d love to foster all the kids that need it, help all of the displaced and scared people and bring every single one of the Syrian orphans home to my house, but I can’t.
Thankfully, there are organisations like UNICEF to help on the big jobs (if you would like to know more about donating to Syria, click here. Their need is not over, although they are no longer a headline), and I can work on the small jobs in my own backyard.
A smile, a coffee or a meal for someone in need. A kind word, a small donation, some hand me downs. Acknowledgment. Not just walking past someone on the street, but saying hi. They were once like you, but things didn’t work out.
An elephant is indeed very difficult to eat, but with small bites, determination and a good bottle of wine, it is possible.