How often do we refuse to look down at a homeless person when walking past them on the street and acknowledge them? There's a social experiment they did in New York a few years ago where they dressed up peoples loved ones as homeless people and had their family members walk past them. Time after time their own husbands/ sisters and other family members didn't even notice them. The homeless become invisible in society.
Rosies is a non profit organization that was created for simply this reason. Their vision is to reach out to those most abandoned, to be present with them, offering them experience of community and belonging.
Last week at Rosies in Brisbane I met an amazing man named John*. He was wearing an over-sized tweed coat that seemed to engulf his small frame. His kind eyes peered through his framed glasses, sitting further out than the rest of the group with his belongings beside him in a green coles bag. He quietly enjoyed the warm cup of coffee and hot meal. John was grateful for the meal and let me know he'd been sleeping rough for the past 4 months. He'd had had some tough times with a few young guys recently who beat him up and took his belongings. Surprisingly he wasn't condemning these guys but said they probably wouldn't reflect on what they'd done for years. "Only time will open their eyes". His words were very poetic yet heartbreaking. He believes their hearts were of stone. Possibly a hard upbringing made them how they are. Clearly he understands unruly youth and I was astonished at his perception. It reminded me of a book I love 'A complaint free world' written by Will Bowen where Will explains that 'it's always hurt people that hurt'. As terrifying as it must have been for John he didn't judge the boys.
John looked to be in his late sixties and was once a History teacher in Brisbane, rattling off a bunch of schools he'd worked at while he was teaching contract work. One of them was my high school. This knocked me for six as I immediately pictured all of my teachers in high school. Especially the ones I viewed at the time as 'old cranky men' when I was a naive 15 year old. I realised it was only time that corrected my viewpoint. How often I've judged people without knowing their story.
John spoke some words from Shakespeare's Macbeth and I quickly turned into an eager student and John my teacher. I never paid too much attention in English class in school (completely understand if you're wanting to correct my grammar in this post) but this time I intently listened to John passionately explaining to me how he interpreted the Macbeth verse. He then challenged me to go a whole day without starting the sentence with the word 'I'. Obviously straight away I wanted to say I'll struggle with it. I can't! I don't think it's possible. I sat there with my mouth open flawed trying to start a sentence not starting with I before laughing at myself. Yikes how narcissistic am I!
John blew me a kiss and walked off with a sneaky grin only to return later with a notebook filled with hand written pages of poetry and quotes that that he wanted to give me. He called them "his ramblings" "his verbal diarrhea". John let me know he had a paper published 20 odd years ago and can remember some of his writings and other famous historians writings word for word... but couldn't remember where he left his bag 20 minutes ago. He went to rip out the pages of his book to give them to me before I stopped him to let him know that I can just take a pic of it on my phone and read them later so he could keep his beautiful writing. This baffled him. He wasn't one for technology as I showed him the photos of the pages on my phone.
I challenge you to get through a day without starting your sentences with I. It will certainly change your perspective for the day. Force you not to have an opinion on everything. To simply observe and listen. John reminded me exactly what Rosies is all about. To listen openly. To be present. He told me we should learn something new every single day. I hope I get to see him again and let him know how grateful I am to have met him and how much he taught me.