Fellow Travellers – Dec 2019
I originally shared this on Facebook, and the response was so strong that we decided to share it here too.
On Sunday I walked off the Eurostar into St Pancras. As usual, someone was playing the communal piano in front of the doors; sweet, wild music.
One man stood right in the doors with his hands stretched out towards us, holding an empty cup and saying “Help!”. He was tall and thin and his voice carried strength and desperation in equal measure. He was shouting “Help me! Please help me!”.
I watched the people in front of me rush past him like the tide racing around a rock. I too walked past and stopped by the piano. An image flashed into my mind of us dancing in Paris earlier in the day and me encouraging people to dare to ask spirit for what they needed. Here was someone asking. I registered my response; his humanity, my humanity and remembered my very own words. I took out my purse and a £20 note.
I walked back to give it to him, met his eyes and put it in his cup. His response broke me open. He said “Thank you, oh thank you! Now I can afford to spend the night in a shelter. Bless you! Thank you for still being human.” We walked together side by side; me towards the taxi rank, him towards the shelter. I told him about Emmaus the homeless charity as this might be a life-raft for him and he hadn’t heard of it. My father, Richard Darlington, was one of the people who helped start the Emmaus movement in the UK. I’m very proud of him.
As we parted I felt we had shared a true and real moment together as fellow travellers on this earth, in a way which dignified both of us. I felt truly blessed and that however lucky he was to have received my help, I was luckier still to have experienced this moment.
Then I got into a taxi and, after a few moments of small talk, found myself telling the taxi driver about what had just happened. I was so tearful and emotional I didn’t want to pretend otherwise and I sensed a kind heart in him. He told me that he knows that man from seeing him so often on the pavement around St Pancras and how genuine his need is. He told me that he himself often helps the people on the street with enough money for a night shelter which costs them something like £7.70 per night.
He told me how he’s seen the number of people on the streets grow and grow and how he’s worried that he’s one of the few “softies” left. We spoke about how hard it is to keep your heart open and how easily it could have been me (and frequently is) walking past someone needing help, fearful of being overwhelmed when there is just so much suffering and distress everywhere in our big cities.
He spoke about how many empty buildings he passes as he taxis around London and that there is no reason for people, whatever they may have done or not managed to do, to be sleeping on the streets in freezing weather in our society. There IS enough money and there ARE enough resources. It is about what we are committed to and what we prioritise and choose as individuals and as a society. I agree.
The tragedy of homelessness on our streets did not just happen, it’s the result of many choices, many of which were issued from the top of government policy. However, we are where we are. If you feel called to make a difference, do find out about Emmaus; they do amazing work which is all about dignity, community and up-cycling for the good of all,
With love and care, Susannah Darling Khan