This post is a confessional.
Lately I seem to have become quite introverted - I shun talking to people, even friends.
Which doesn't really go together with my Christian faith, let alone the ongoing word 'Missionary' in my passport.
A Christian should always be ready to help people out, do the right thing, talk to strangers and share their hope in Jesus Christ.
Earlier this year I wrote about Carter, who I did manage to get talking to at a bus stop in March. He was homeless, and trapped in a wheelchair that he couldn't push, with nowhere to go to even if someone else volunteered to take him there. How had he got to the bus stop? The hospital behind him had wheeled him out there when they had discharged him. And left him.
I still don't really know why I stayed talking to him for so long. It would sure have been easier to have got up and just left him there too (which I ultimately did), but he deserved better than that, for so many reasons. And he was an interesting fellow to chat to, even if I felt that I was less so.
Two days later he was taken away by an ambulance to another hospital, (yep they drove out to pick up an emergency case from just outside a different hospital) somewhat against his preference. You see, he wanted to go to a third hospital. But not enough to accept my offer of paying for a mobility cab there. And I didn't want to help enough to try to find another way, eg. on cheaper public transport.
Months later on 1st July in London, after handing in my latest application for a Missionary Visa (which they later awarded me), I was sitting on a bench in Soho Square. It was sunny, and crowded. Amidst the hubbub was a woman doing exercises on the grass. Also a party with a dog chewing a bone. Finishing my Magnum ice cream, I got out the photos that I had just collected from Jessops. An Irishman came up, sat down next to me, ignored my activity, and started talking to me.
Why does everyone ask you what your job is? I decided not to say 'missionary', for fear of the inevitable discussion about how religion is always exactly what that person thinks it is, and therefore as bad. Skipping the word, I narrowed my activities to the part of my job that involves writing thoughts for the day for the radio. Not much to criticise there. So he changed the subject.
First the female contortionist before us was wrong for doing her exercises in public. I said I wished I was as flexible as that. Then the party with the dog was wrong, because it might attack people. I pointed out that it wasn't attacking anyone. He retorted that I wouldn't say that if it were attacking me. There was a clear disparity between the actual dog, and the copy of it in his mind's eye, which he was in control of, but I decided not to point this out. I had really wanted to look through my new photos. So I got up to leave, wished him the best, and outstretched my hand to shake his.
He refused, explaining with some disappointment that we were just not on the same wavelength. I left reflecting on what might have transpired had I indeed dangled the religion carrot in front of him. In my own mind's eye, my copy of him (which I control) might have railed against all things theistic, but perhaps instead my responses might have sunk in and created some clearer understanding over time. Or perhaps we really wouldn't have been on the same wavelength. Or perhaps we would have.
More months later I was sitting by the River Thames with another roll of prints developed, this time from the much more expensive Snappy Snaps. (£18 vs. Jessops' £10)
There was another guy. He walked straight up to me, also ignored my existing activity, and sat down and proceeded to talk to me. I'd had enough of this.
"Why?" I demanded. "Why, out of everybody, did you choose to come up to me?"
He looked visibly shocked, and floundered a bit. "You just looked like a nice guy."
I spoke to him for a bit, refused to tell him what I did for a living, and was presently teased for refusing to give away anything about myself. I wished him the best, and took my photos home.
Carter. I couldn't stop thinking about Carter.
Though in March he had turned down my offer of help and remained uncertain what path he should take, it still really bugged me that he was out there somewhere.
So I googled him.
And there he was in a newspaper article from a few weeks earlier. He was still homeless, still in a wheelchair, and now at a new bus stop outside yet another hospital somewhere else in London. Not the first one, not the one they'd taken him away to, nor the one he'd wanted to go to, but another. Looking out of the photo on the screen at me, he looked exactly as I remembered him during our three chats.
I could still recall which hospital he had told me that he had really wanted to go to, despite his turning down my offer of a mobility cab to take him there. Perceptive fellow, he could probably tell that I was willing but not keen. Nonetheless, I felt like I just had to go ask him again. This time I would offer to wheel him there myself on cheaper public transport. After all, now I knew where he was again, or at least where he had been a few weeks earlier, and could figure out the route in advance.
Of course, the chances of him still being there a couple of weeks after the article were slim at best, but he'd survived at the last bus stop a couple of nights, so why not at this one a couple of weeks? I had to at least try.
And, I'm ashamed to confess, I did give him literally my very least try.
Rather than help the man, I think I was more motivated by some misplaced sense of absolving myself. After all, there was a clear immediacy to his need, but no time limit on mine.
Hence it took me well over a further month to find the time to get on the train there to look for him to ask. Despite the now slimmer than slim chance of finding him still there, I even had print-outs on me of possible London homeless shelters with wheelchair facilities.
So today I pounded the streets all the way round the circumference of this unfamiliar hospital. Of course he was no longer at any of the bus stops surrounding it. I asked inside, but they could only confirm that he had been discharged on some unspecified date in the past.
So you know what I did? I crossed over the road and got on my own bus home.
Same thing as always. I had really been hoping to not find him. It might well have led to my having to talk to a whole string of other people, possibly trying to get him admitted again. I would have hated that, but, darn it, I would have done it. Not out of love, or pride, or misplaced heroism.
Just because, for some reason, I would have flipping well had to.
Something important's missing...
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails."
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)