A few hours on Friday was spent in chaplaincies. At lunch time I spent time at St John Ambulance. In the afternoon I visited fire stations. In the evening I excused myself from our drop-in centre and spent some time at "farewell drinks" at St John for the mechanics who have been made redundant. In each of these places I experienced "the sacred" or "God".
I need to tell you that I did not mention "God" or religion in our conversations. Our conversations were about life. I had a whole lot of consecutive one-on-one conversations. We talked about work, family, getting older, cancer, death, hospital, illnesss, redundancies etc etc. We had serious conversation. Some sad topics. We sometimes laughed. We shared experiences. I finished the night feeling extremely privileged. In conversation after conversation the people talked with me openly and shared about their experiences, their thoughts and their feelings. Somehow I came away feeling like something sacred had just happened. In saying goodbye they said, "Yeah see ya Dave. Been real nice catching up." or "Good to chat Father Ted" or "Thanks man!" I was not there as their counsellor. They were asking about my health as well, it was a mutual meeting. The thing that made these conversations special was that we were listening to each other and somehow we connected. In that connection, in that shared interest and concern I experienced "the sacred". I believe in God because I bump into him in firefighters, in ambo's and in relationships. We sing a song at Church. It goes like this...
Who is moving through the silence.
gentle as the summer rain?
Who is standing in the doorway,
knocking, asking to come in?
The third and fourth verse go...
3. Father, I have seen your Kingdom
in the streets of little towns,
in the shadows of the city
when we gather in your name.
4. Father, I have seen your Kingdom
in the eyes of those who love.
In the mercy of your people
I have seen your Kingdom come.
That was my experience on Friday. In real relationships with real people I bump into "the sacred" or "God". I am indeed fortunate.
People who do silly things..
I bumped into sad people this week too, and I felt exasperated by them. Here are three...
- A man came into Space2B and I was told he wanted to see me. I have known him for years. He has recently been discharged from an enforced stay in mental health facilities. He yelled at me that he was on the street again because he had been kicked out by yet another landlord. Of course it wasn't his fault, he had not caused the problem, it was the nasty landlord. "What are you going to do about it?" he demanded. "What's the community going to do about it?" I told him he could stay at the night shelter. "The Night Shelter! They don't want me! Thats full of drug addicts. Same as your drop-in centre!" he snapped at me. I assured him the Night Shelter would have him. He did annoy people with his last visit. He sat up in bed at about 2 a.m. and started reading the Bible out loud! I suggested that maybe he had to modify his behaviour and he would not have so much trouble finding accommodation. "Well thank you!" he said sarcastically. "No wonder we have people shot in Afghanistan with people like you around." He stormed out, walking against the lights across a busy intersection giving "the finger" to annoyed drivers who were trying to avoid him. He has mental health issues. He never seems to learn. Years ago I used to be able to have a rational conversation with him but he has deteriorated. Should he have been discharged? Why can't he see sense?
- When I left the Drop-in centre everybody was happy. There was a man there playing pool who regularly gets upset when he is losing. He is a bully in his fifties and tries to intimidate people. We have warned him and chastised him and put up with him literally for years. The last time he got stroppy I suggested that if he does not change we will have to ban him. The drop-in centre is a much more relaxed place when he is not there. Well while I was away at St John he threw a wobbly. Apparently my wife stepped in. He told her he was not listening to her and kept looking to fight somebody. My wife who was mother to three boys and two girls, has been a school teacher, has dealt with groups of people of various ages for years, apparently told him off for his behaviour and suggested solutions. When he still refused to listen she firmly stood in front of him, pointed to the door and said, "Go! Go home now! And you need not come back." The bully had met his match, and he slunk out the door. Silly man. He could, if he modified his behaviour have fun, but he refuses to change. Why? Exasperating man! He will be so lonely. We have run the drop-in since 1995 and he is the first person we have banned. (We have asked him and others to leave on just a few occasions)
- Early in the night we had this attractive 30ish woman come in and talk briefly with me. She was asking for food while holding her beanie hat in front of her mouth in a vain attempt to hide her alcohol breath. We had been involved with her last year when she was in crisis. She and her friend stayed a while and talked with some others she knew. They then left, only to return briefly just before we closed the doors. My wife discovered her drugged and boozed down stairs spraying the contents of the fire extinguisher around. Intelligent, beautiful and has been offered heaps of support and help, but still stupidly addicted to drugs and alcohol. She goes from crisis to crisis and sometimes to prison. It seems she doesn't want to change. Why oh why?
That's just a sample of three in two days. There are others I could tell you about. Our society spits them out regularly. They don't have the motivation to change. I am saddened by their situation. I also find that they could suck you dry if you let them. We have learned to be caring but pretty "hard" at the same time.