Ray of sunshine
Published 6 September 2016
This morning as I was approaching work I spotted one of our regular visitors, Garth (not his real name) with another bloke I don’t know. Garth was, in my view, clowning around with the other guy.
He was making quite a lot of noise and to someone who didn’t know him would look like a person having some sort of mental health episode or rampage. I glanced at the woman next to me at the pedestrian crossing and she looked afraid. I turned to her and said “He is harmless, nothing to worry about” to which she looked disbelieving, so I said “I know him – he really is very friendly and nothing to be concerned about”. The look she gave me was one of both relief and utter shock.
There was a lot of subtext in that look. It went something like this. “You seem pretty normal, Mrs 40 something worker and mother and included part of society. I identify you as being similar to my tribe. He looks dishevelled, frightening and does not look like someone belonging to my tribe. How is it that you can know that person over there? ” I am not judging her. I understand this as being part of our society. It’s something I have been reminded of twice recently.
Last week I received an alert telling me that an ambulance had been called to our centre. It’s a service we have with a company so we are always on top of things. It was after closing so I did a quick check with the staff that were left and everyone was ok so I looked out the front windows and saw a man, known to us, crouching down on the road near our gates. One of my colleagues and I went down to see if he was ok. He was as good as you could be in the circumstances.
Recently released from prison onto the streets, he had started using IV drugs again after a hiatus and with no tolerance it was affecting him in a way he wasn’t used to. He was coherent, but slow in his speech, able to walk and tell us that he had been crouching down to try and concentrate on something in his bag. He was a little wobbly and it appeared he had used recently. He told us he wasn’t sick and didn’t need an ambulance.
We looked around to see where the ambulance call had come from and couldn’t see anyone at first. We stayed chatting to the man for a while and a woman emerged, phone in hand, on the line to the ambulance. She steered a wide berth from him as she approached and stood a good three metres away from him. Clearly she had called the ambulance from afar, not feeling safe to approach. It’s fair to say that he had an intimidating appearance – shaved head and multiple facial tattoos. I relayed to her that the man was ok but was possibly under the influence of drugs and there probably wasn’t any need for an ambulance. She looked disbelieving. I could see her discomfort – the ambiguity she felt. Wanting to help but also not wanting to be near.
When the ambulance arrived I had a chat to the paramedics, who suggested that they were happy to do a general check-up for the man even though it was unlikely he needed transport to hospital. After a bit of convincing the man decided to take up the offer. The ambulance did check him over and everything was fine. One of the greatest benefits of that check-up was two paramedics and a student spending time with him and providing a bit of fuss and TLC. They spent a good 20 minutes giving him the once over. When it was done he grabbed his bag and was on his way.
We all identify with our tribe. The people like us, who we know and are comfortable with. We are hard wired to be suspicious of anyone who looks like they are outside the parameters of what we believe to be normal. It’s an important mechanism of human nature and yet it keeps us from really connecting with and helping those who might need it. It might enlighten some to find that people like Garth or the man at the front gates find the lifestyle people like me lead to be terrifying. Running a household, squeezing in a full time job, considering things like gardening,a trip to the beach and a night sitting in my pyjamas watching TV to be highlights can look as terrifying to someone like Garth as a lifestyle of living on the streets looks to me.
Jason Mraz, my favourite musician, wrote a song some years back that he never recorded, but plays at his live concerts. I would like to leave you with some of the lyrics to “The Sunshine Song”, so that you might think about sending out a ray of sunshine next time you see someone who looks like they aren’t in your tribe, but who might need some support.
Well sometimes the sun shines on
Other people’s houses and not mine.
Some days the clouds paint the sky all gray
And it takes away my summertime.
Somehow the sun keeps shining upon you,
While I struggle to get mine.
If there’s a light in everybody,
Send out your ray of sunshine.
I want to walk the same roads as everybody else, Through the trees and past the gates.
Getting high on heavenly breezes,
Making new friends along the way.
I won’t ask much of nobody,
I’m just here to sing along.
And make my mistakes looks gracious,
And learn some lessons from my wrongs.
……Oh, if this little light of mine
Combined with yours today,
How many watts could we luminate?
How many villages could we save?
And my umbrella’s tired of the weather,
Wearing me down.
Well, look at me now.
You should look as good as your outlook,
Would you mind if I took some time,
to soak up your light, your beautiful light?
You’ve got a paradise inside.
I get hungry for love and thirsty for life,
And much too full on the pain,
When I look to the sky to help me
And sometimes it looks like rain.
You’re undeniably warm, you’re cerulean,
You’re perfect in desire.
Won’t you hang around
so the sun, it can shine on me,
And the clouds they can roll away,
And the sky can become a possibility?
If there’s a light in everybody,
Send out your ray of sunshine