Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reflecting on a week of people...

This weekend at my daughter's house we installed a new ceiling. Yet to be stopped and painted.
Those that don't - criticise.
Last Sunday and today my running friend and I went for a walk. Each time we actually ran some distance because we have started our return to running. She has had a knee operation and I have had a sore knee so we have not been running for sometime! Where we walk/run lots of people go running, looking very fit, gliding up and down the hill easily. (Today we power-walked up the hill arriving at the top totally breathless) We are a strange pair.  She is twenty years younger than I so we look like father and daughter.  But these last two Sundays we have looked with envy at the lithe runners about us and indulged in criticism!  "Look at the funny way he's running!" "What a strange get up she's wearing!" "Bet he hasn't been running long!" "He's such a show off!" etc. etc. We are simply jealous because we used to be able to run freely and now we don't. As I reflected on this tendency and conversations I frequently have with people, it is often true that those that don't get off their butt and help the world along criticise those who do. It is easy to do nothing, make no mistakes, have no challenges and criticise those who are doing things.

Night Shelter decisions
Lots of my emotional energy this past week has been given to the Night Shelter cause. I have had meetings, conversations and heaps of times stewing. We had a nearly three hour meeting on Thursday evening that I facilitated to make important decisions about an ongoing accommodation project. At times the meeting was tense and intense, but I managed to keep a sense of fun and humour within the group. Since then I have been discussing, thinking and planning for the way ahead. It is funny. I am scared stiff about the project, wondering if we can do it, but strangely intensely "alive" by the opportunity to facilitate this group of people on this adventure.

My mate Jeff...
I have a friend who used to come to our drop-in centre who is an interesting character. He has been banned from drop-in centres and other places around town because he tends to be rough and uncouth in the way he relates. But I can't help liking him. He has physical and mental health issues so is unemployed, but reads on the internet voraciously. He will come out with facts and figures that will astound you. I was in Space2B (lunch time coffee area at our Church) when in he came with a little Jack Russell dog's lead tied to his waist. "Daaave Brown!" he yelled in a big gruff loud voice. He came in, sat down and chatted a while.  I had not seen him for some time. "Gotta go get a magazine!" he said abruptly and picking up his dog deposited him on my lap to look after, while he went off to the shop. He bought a magazine and threw it on the table. He later said, "Thats for you! Thought you might like some intelligent reading." He asked if I could give him a lift, it was cold and raining heavily outside. I did so, and as we drove toward his place he dropped $5 on my knee. When I protested he said,"Don't expect you to give me a lift for nothin'!" He really is a nice guy, but hides it well under this rough gruff exterior. I need to spend more time with him. I think he has softened over the years, but don't tell him I said that.
As I drove toward Jeff's house the rain stopped. When we were approaching an intersection he blurted out, "Turn left, turn left!" "Why?" I asked. "I want to walk the mutt through the park (Chingford Park) he loves it!" So I turned, went down to the back entrance of the park and dropped him off. I was actually overcome with nostalgia. As adolescents and teenagers we lived on the corner he demanded that I turn left on. The house is still there, actually for sale. I could remember the people who use to live  in the houses as I drove to the back entrance. The last house right by the park was the house of a girl I used to go to art classes with, "Moira".  Her dad used to drive us there every Saturday morning and she and I would meander back through town after class, sometimes buying chips along the way. (You could buy threepence worth of chips in those days) Where he started walking we used to play neighbourhood cricket. The Brown boys gathered with mates and anybody else who wanted to play, and often we would play till dark. I used to spend lazy hours riding my bike around the field on my own, doing all sorts of tricks. I could stand on the seat. I could bend down at speed and pick a ball up off the ground. I tried leaping off my bike to grasp an overhanging branch and climb into a tree. Here we wandered, played and later walked as a gang of friends on Sunday afternoons, flirting shyly and working out what it meant to be girls and boys together. It all came flooding back to me and I thought how nice it would be to wind back the clock. I was tempted to hop out of the car and wander the park once more, this time  with Jeff and his dog. I had places to go and people to see so I turned around, sounded the horn in farewell to Jeff and went back to the office.
Food speaks...
We have a social work student on field placement with us. She, I think reluctantly, participates in some of the food preparation for the drop-in centre. My wife says that the food preparation is part of social work, even though it may be looked down upon. By serving food, by doing dishes, by breaking the ice with people as we share food with them, we are saying that they are important, they are loved. I have to agree. Some of our guests only come for the food. I have found, however, that when you take a plate around and offer food as if they were an important guest in your house, you can often sense an openness, a breaking down of barriers that nothing else could do. The gift of food and its preparation speaks to people about acceptance, welcome and affirmation. It is "social work"!

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