I have taken her things. Yesterday it was some satsumas, two mince pies and a pair of socks. Today it was two shortbread biscuits. I leave them on the far end of the Prom Shelter bench she is sleeping on, just beyond her little square red suitcase. I approach quietly so as not to waken or frighten her. They are small gestures. Offerings of solidarity, of awareness, of, I am all too aware, scant comfort. I think of her each night and wish her a home, safety and warmth. I hope she is safe there. And I wonder what has brought her here. Why here, of all places? He tells me she can’t speak English. How did she find her way here? What does she dream of? What did she think she’d find here? He thought she was in her 60s but perhaps she is younger and poverty and homelessness has cast an ageing care across her features. There but for the grace of God……May the grace of God deliver her.
He tried to articulate it but though I tried to question him I didn’t really understand what he meant. It happens whenever I see young children, he said. I get this kind of physical response, a kind of shiver that goes through my whole body. I asked if he got the same feeling when he saw H and K. No, he said, they have to be strangers. I think it is about a profound sense of empathy, of feeling for them, their vulnerability, the journey they must go on but I cannot be sure. His childhood was so happy, so safe, so contained, that at times he has struggled to leave it. Our experiences have been so different.
He was so open, so ready to embrace what I had to say, I hadn’t expected it. What a good man, what a warm man. I am pleased, though daunted. So be it. Grant me the courage and the energy and the stamina to see it through and make it a success for him and the whole Centre. I feel welcome there. His assistant remembered my name. It took me by surprise. And I sat a while with the lettering exhibit and saw it anew. He talked. He is so full of stories of life of joy for his metier. I am bowled over. Keep me steady but with one eye open for joy.