It’s happened twice now in the last fortnight…


Posted by in July's Magazine

… The first time I found it horribly sad; the second time I felt outrage. And while I hope there isn’t a third time any time soon, I hope that if there is, I still feel the same sadness and outrage, if not more. I hope I don’t become de-sensitised, don’t stop letting it get to me when someone tells me they are hungry and losing weight because they can’t eat because they don’t have any teeth. In 2019. In Edinburgh. People, in their thirties and forties, going hungry because they don’t have teeth. 

It’s the stuff of Dickens novels isn’t it? Please sir, a little more gruel because I can’t chew anything else? And isn’t everything round here a bit Dickens now? It feels like on every street there is a new grim institution where someone is making an awful lot of money providing accommodation to people who have run out of options. 

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Only this isn’t your Cheery Musical kind of poverty. There is no grubby faced singing and thigh slapping going on here. No association, the rules say. That means no socialising, no talking to people. Using kitchens and shared spaces one at a time. Worse than prison, some people have told me, which raises questions few of us have thankfully ever had to ask about freedom versus loneliness. 

Just keep breathing

These are your neighbours though. These people with no teeth, waiting to use the room with the microwave one at a time are your neighbours, your community now. I spend one afternoon a week doing outreach with people who struggle with addiction, and I sometimes find myself thinking that it’s the time in the week when I feel the least lonely, that I have more in common with the people I give donuts and sugary coffee to than the people in my church and on my street.

Because on the whole these are people who, like me, have made some really bad decisions. Like every single one of us, they made some of those decisions accidentally, involuntary responses to pain or difficult circumstances. Badly learned behaviours and ingrained destructive patterns. And some of them, knowing full well that they were screwing it up, harming themselves and others, but bloody mindedly and doggedly just charging on regardless. Again, just like we all do sometimes. 

It’s just for most of us the consequences are not so disastrous. Various privileges form safety nets. Through good luck and graces we don’t deserve, our rock bottoms are not quite so dark and rocky.

I have done a fine line in self-destruction in my own life on plenty of occasions and in some ways still do, but I could always get away, always bounce back to some degree. I always had enough, enough cuddles, enough money, enough food, enough education and latterly enough faith to be able to weather storm or trauma. I have my nightmares, but I wake up from them each morning. 

Some of the people I talk to, I just can’t imagine how they keep breathing in and out, some of the pain they have lived through, some of what they have seen. And they just didn’t get enough of anything, ever. I don’t believe for one second that if I had been dealt the same hands as them, I would have handled anything any better, and I’m not sure you would either.

Worse than prison, some people have told me, raising questions few of us ever had to ask about freedom versus loneliness

It’s become commonplace to say check your privilege, but maybe we should all really do that. If we are going to form the loving, caring communities most of us want deep down. Ask us, what happened to you in your life that gave you your enoughness, and to protect you from the worst consequences of your bad decisions or lack of self-control and will power? Maybe then we might be better placed, buoyed up, to face the pain that other people are living with, not avoid it or distance ourselves, and not to judge.

I know it’s uncomfortable. Boris Johnson doesn’t want us to. Jeremy Kyle doesn’t want us to. Satan sure as hell doesn’t want us to. They would much rather that we bang and blame or at best condescend from afar. Because every cruel or awful thing that happens in the world happens because someone failed to see the humanity in someone else, and where we are disconnected, where we fail to see that we all belong to one another, someone is usually profiting from the misery that ensues. 

If things get worse, the people all around the edges will just fall off, just disappear, and the powers that be will hope we just turn, ignore it, and let them.  

We can’t let any members of our community just fall away as collateral damage, because that will dehumanise us all. If we talk enough, and listen enough and finally start to understand enough, it will become second nature to protect the lonely and vulnerable among us. 

Let us hope this can become a place where we love neighbour and self with equal gentleness and generosity.

Sally Fraser

One response to “It’s happened twice now in the last fortnight…”

  1. George says:

    There but for the grace of god. Guilty

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