Late yesterday evening, when I arrived back home after lecturing, a wave of emotions rushed over me as soon as I passed through my own front door. It was a mixture of gratitude and grief for a couple of strangers I had met while walking to the bus on my way back from work.
It all began when, for reasons unknown to me, I decided to take a different route to the bus stop than I usually do. As I walked down Grafton street, just before ten at night, it dawned on me that I hadn’t been there it quite some time and the amount of homeless sleeping in doorways filled me with sadness.
Of course I have been reading the news and am aware of the problem of the increase of homeless people that Ireland, Dublin in particular, has been facing. And I know that the number of women and children sleeping rough has gone up dramatically over the last two years, but somehow the contrast of brightly lit shops and people lying on cardboard in the the doorways was something I just hadn’t seen in a while and it pained me.
Walking passed the sleeping figures I felt powerless and saddened, really not knowing what to do. As I approached the most expensive shop in Dublin, luxury brands and high-end design adorning its windows, things I sometimes covet but can never afford, I saw two figures huddled together in the doorway next to it. As I came closer I could see how a man had curled his body inwards, protectively around the sleeping woman beside him and in a moment of intimacy he lifted his hand to tenderly tuck her tightly in to her worn and tatty sleeping bag and stroked her cheek with such a gentle gesture that I felt I was invading a very private moment.
That gesture of love and caring hit me hard in the chest and I knew I couldn’t just walk by. Not wanting to disturb them too much I did the only thing I could and offered to buy them something warm to eat. His face lit up and he asked for a burger, she was deep in dreamland and he didn’t want to wake her.
Knowing that my gesture was only small I felt humbled by his gratitude and on the bus ride home his gentle gesture wouldn’t leave my thoughts. Once home I couldn’t but feel grateful for the four walls I live in, even though the rent has gone up putting financial strain on me. I felt thankful for the privacy my home provides me, that I have food in the fridge and a bed to sleep in. Closing my eyes that night I kept thinking of the couple sleeping huddled together in the doorway and hoped that at least their obvious love for each other could provide some comfort – until hopefully they too could find a home to feel safe in.