Monday, October 22, 2012

Unbroken Spirit

This happened actually a little while ago, but it made an impression on me and so I thought I’d write a post about it. One of these encounters you keep thinking about. It’s the story of one man but it is not unique; there would be more homeless and not-homeless people in the same situation, and so I can relay some details without identifying the person. More than anything, to me it shows the strength and determination of an unbroken spirit. Definitely a positive story.

It was a public holiday, a Wednesday, so probably Show Day. I was in the city and around 11:30AM I bought a Big Issue from this guy on Queen Street (Not Grant the Polite Guy; I don’t know what his name is). He was so happy. He said he had been standing there since 9:00AM, and I was the first person to buy a magazine from him that morning. Now, the Big Issue costs $5, half of which is towards production costs and the other $2.50 is for the vendor. So, in two and a half hours he had earned $2.50, not even enough for a cup of coffee…

We had a little chat, but I was in a hurry because my bus would leave in a few minutes and it left from the city only once an hour, so I kept it brief. Yes, trust me to worry about my bus’s departure time while standing face-to-face with someone with a much larger problem…! I’m far from perfect, booah. The fact that this guy earned $2.50 in two and a half hours, and that after all that time of standing there I was the very first person to buy a magazine, kept playing on my mind though. I thought about how hard it must be when nobody stops to buy a magazine – I actually had this experience just recently and wrote about it in my Big Issue Experience blog post. I wondered how people stayed motivated to keep going, and not to do the easier thing, give up and call it a day…

A few days later I saw this guy again, and without me asking he gave me the answers. I did not buy a magazine off him this time because I already had the issue, but I did a “Pie and Coke” with him, in this case a V energy drink. I had heard of the drink, but since I don’t drink it myself I wondered where I could get it. I should not have worried, Woolworth sells it in the cooler section J The guy gladly accepted the drink and we had a chat.

As I said before, it is not really a story unique to him and so I feel it is OK to share some of it here to shed a bit more light on the issues that impact on homeless people and other disadvantaged people, and also to show that there is hope. This guy’s relationship had broken down as a result of which he had become homeless, he has a little boy whom he sees on some weekends. He had worked his way up from living on the streets of Brisbane to living in a hostel with other disadvantaged men. He said – not without pride – that he paid rent for his room. However, he did not feel that the hostel was an environment he wanted to expose his little boy to. Along the way, he had picked up some drugs and alcohol addictions. And really, I could see how in such excruciating circumstances drugs and alcohol could offer a tempting, temporary band aid. And if there is no incentive not to use or drink, why would they leave it… I’m not saying it’s a great thing, I’m saying I can “get” how some people start to use or drink and keep using and drinking.

This guy found his incentive to stop though. For his little boy he overcame his addictions a few years ago; anyone who knows a little bit about alcohol and drugs knows what a hard-fought victory that would be. He said it was still a struggle on a daily basis, he knew he would always be a recovering addict; he would always remember how it was to be under the influence, but he was determined not to go back. He worked very hard every day at bettering his life in order to get more regular access to his little one; they had a very good relationship. He was proud at having beaten his addictions, he  was proud at doing so well now, that his skin had cleared up, that he looked better, but he also aimed for more change so he could be a better father for his child; a father who would be worth getting more access. Like all of us, he is a work in progress, and I marvel at his strength and resilience.

The love of a parent for a child is amazing and strong, and brings out one’s very best. It is there, no matter what the context. Whether people are homeless or not, addicted or not, the love for their children is the same. People go through thick and thin for their child, to hell and back, to the moon and back, they want the best for their child. There are many ways to express the depth of feeling but, this is what this guy taught me, the love is the same. One of these things I probably already knew but never really thought about. It is the spirits that are unbroken by circumstance that make it back up from the depths. It is difficult but it can be done and it IS done. And it is very humbling to witness that.

Written by Bernie the Polite Girl

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