There’s still no room at the Inn
IN the madness that is Christmas, the first weekend of December found me in three different cities going to three different events, meeting up with three different friends. Yet uniform to all three places on all three nights on this one island was my walk home; each night I passed a homeless person sleeping in a doorway.
Whenever I encounter the homeless, my mind takes over my eyes. The impulse is to keep walking, to avert my gaze, to accelerate my pace and to adhere to my internal rhetoric; I don’t have time, I don’t have change and I can’t alter their situation. So I ignore a scene that should never be ignored.
Invariably however a few paces further, the ghost of a face invades me, their desolation assails me and the age-old debate begins between my conscience and free will. My conscience tells me to turn back, to throw a few coins in the cup and start a conversation. My free will in all its arrogance berates me and assures me I have every right to walk the streets without guilt. Sometimes my conscience wins out, other times it’s my free will. At no time however do I feel comfortable and whatever action I take, I am always asking questions.
In stopping to talk, am I merely trying to quell my discomfort and in proceeding am I being indifferent to an open wound? In light of the variety of labels attached to the homeless i.e. addiction, mental illness, victims of abusive childhoods etc., it is ironic then how we assume they will survive on a mere cardboard box, their singular defence against the elements.
Yet homelessness extends beyond the stereo-typical scene we witness late at night. It is easy not to notice and easier still to ignore the daytime wanderings of a woman and her children through faceless city streets, waiting for night to come to return to a bed that is not their own under a roof that houses no home.
Now that its Christmastime, never is “home” more celebrated. Coming “home” for Christmas is in our conversations, our songs and our sentiments. We decorate houses, light fires and gather around dinner tables. Its ironic then that after a boom that went bust there is a raft of vacant houses standing idle at a time when there has never been more people or families looking to fill them.
Christmas has long since evolved from its modest beginnings and has come to means lots of different things to lots of different people.
Still, every year the school Christmas concert highlights the genesis of Christmas, beginning as it does with a homeless family wandering across the face of a strange place on a cold night.
In our countless re-enactments of the traditional story, we roll out the inn-keepers, villainise their apathy and empathise with a family abandoned. Strange then that 2000 years later - there is still no room at the Inn.