Tuesday, 28 April 2015
The day I nearly got myself arrested...
Last Saturday we set out in the sunshine for a family day out. Stratford was our destination and we told the boys we weren't doing any packing but were just going to have a fun day.
Little did we know the kind of fun we were going to have.
After an epic stall of the motor boat we had hired, causing us to call the rescue services of the lifeguard and embarrass us in front of all Stratford's public, we nipped to the shops to buy some sweeties.
Outside the shop was a lady sitting on the pavement with a cap full of loose change in front of her. I left the boys to their complex sweetie choosing and sat down next to her.
The town was busy and it felt like hundreds of feet walked past us as we chatted. I ignored the looks of disgust and concentrated on the face of this precious woman.
"What does it feel like to be sitting here?" I asked her.
"I hate it." She replied. "I never wanted to be sat here and I hate having to scrounge off people. Sometimes people kick me when they walk past and sometimes they spit on me. It makes me feel like a real down and out. I feel ashamed."
She then went on to explain how she ended up sitting there that day in the sunshine as the rest of the world enjoyed their ice creams and boat trips. Leaving an abusive relationship left her homeless and waiting for a place in a hostel in the next town.
'We're all only one step away', I thought to myself as I sat next to my new friend who began to pour her heart out to me.
As we were in mid-flow of conversation about kids and pregnancy (it's what us women like to talk about, whether we are homeless or not), a policeman rode up to us on his bike and shouted.
"OI! MOVE! NOW!!"
No chatting. No preamble. No attempt to see us as real people.
We stood up and continued to chat. My new friend had difficulty standing as her legs had become numb from sitting on the concrete. I gave the policeman my best disgruntled look.
"GO ON!" He continued bellowing. "MOVE!!"
In my bravest voice (for in truth my legs were a little shakey by this point as we had drawn a crowd and I wasn't sure what was going to happen) I explained to the policeman I was merely waiting for my family and chatting to this lady.
"If I see you here again, I'll pull you in!" He warned me as he mounted his bike and rode away.
Outraged at the way we had been treated, I explained everything to Jared when he eventually found me.
Seeing the policeman cycling past, Jared stood in front of him and stopped him in his tracks.
"Excuse me," he interrupted him, "But I hear you have just spoken very rudely to two young ladies."
The policeman smiled in a way that didn't reach his eyes. "Oh yes, and what evidence do you have for that then?"
"One of them was my wife."
And the policeman's face dropped.
When I eventually joined them and explained to him what I had been doing he transformed instantly from harsh, rude and draconian to smiles and apologies.
But deep down, I knew that what had just happened wasn't out of the ordinary.
The so called 'undeserving poor' are despised in our country by the very people who should be protecting them. I had faced the injustice that they face every single day, and it wasn't a good feeling. My new friend never wanted to sit on a cold, hard pavement asking for people's spare change. She did not choose to live a life that causes people to spit on her and kick her.
There are people in our society who need our compassion, our understanding and our support. They need a hand up not a slap in the face. They need to be treated like the precious human beings that they were made to be.
Call me naive if you like, but I know where Jesus would have been sitting. And it wouldn't have been on the policeman's bike.