It's twelfth night and therefore officially the end of the festive season so all the decorations have to come down :o( Not that I had put any decorations up other than my cards on ribbons, because there didn't seem to be a great deal of point seeing as I was away for most of the festive period. However, this coming Saturday I'm having a (not) New Year's Eve party to celebrate it being (not) New Year's Eve. In other words, it's an excuse for a get together of friends and friends of friends as lots of people have been away and not had a chance to catch up with each other, and now the long slog through the rest of the dark, cold, winter days begins with nothing to look forward to until Easter. So you may not be aware of this, but it's actually still December and Saturday is the 41st of the month :oD I had meant to record the fireworks off the telly on 31st, but I forgot :o( so at midnight on Saturday we're going to have to make do with the bongs on Radio 4 ... though I might, if I remember and decide I can afford it, I might get a few fireworks to set off in the back lane. Tee hee. That'll confuse the neighbours ;o)
Other than taking down Christmas cards and decorations, what does one do on twelfth night? Well traditionally I don't do anything specific, except perhaps feel a bit sad about disassembling the festivities, but tonight I have been to the pantomime at Newcastle's Theatre Royal :o) It was Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates and it was great fun, though perhaps rather risque for some of the young kids there. Most of it will have gone over their heads, but I'm not convinced that all of it will have done. Anyway, it was wonderful fun and the 3D effects they had were fantastic. It also tickled me that the friend I went with and I had no children with us - we were unashamedly there for ourselves without the security of a small child to pass off as our reason for going :o)
Going back a while, but keeping with the festive theme, I wanted to tell you about something that happened in the 12th December. A small group of us from church went carol singing around the streets near church. We weren't collecting money, just providing a bit of festive entertainment and reaching out into the community as a church to remind people what Christmas is really about. Although it was cold and damp, and later started to spit with the kind of rain that feels like needles on your skin, we all had a fun time and lots of people seemed to enjoy our efforts, with one or two even joining in themselves. When it got too chilly for us and we'd been out a while we went off to the vicarage to warm up with mulled wine and mince pies. Well, most people did, but seeing as either of those would've killed me (allergies) I gave them a miss and opted for a decaf tea instead, which eventually helped me to defrost. It was a lovely evening, with lots of fun, lots of festivity, lots of singing and a fair bit of dampness.
When I got home I was feeling all cheery and festively fuzzy inside. I needed some milk from the shop though so rather than going in and getting all cosy warm and then having to go back out into the stinging rain I went as soon as I got out of the car. Outside the shop was a young man sitting on the ground, wrapped in a worn out coat, getting very wet, obviously cold, and begging. This is a residential area, not the centre of town and I don't think I've ever seen anyone begging in the area before. He was leaning against the window at the far end of the Spar shop, but when he saw me heading towards the door he asked me if I could spare a few pence. The temptation with beggars is to ignore them, to bypass them without often without acknowledgement, but I couldn't do that. I couldn't brush aside those words of 'good will to all men' that I'd just been singing about. I couldn't pretend I hadn't seen him. I approached him and he told me that he needed to make £15 so that he could stay in the hostel over night, that he'd managed to scrape together the money the night before, but that when he'd got there they were full. He told me he'd then bought alcohol with yesterday's £15 to help block out the cold as he spent the night on the street. And therein lies the dilemma we face when someone begs you for money - do you give them the money in the hope that they will spend it on food, hot drinks, or a place to stay, rather than alcohol, or do you suspect that it'll go on booze so don't give them what they're asking for. It's a difficult call, and really who am I to say that someone who's sleeping rough and is freezing cold shouldn't do whatever it takes for them to get some rest, even if that means drinking themselves into a stupor, but at the end of the day I rarely do give money. I didn't give money to this young man either, and I still don't know if I did the right thing. However, when I was in the shop I noticed they were doing a two for one offer on those enormous bars of Dairy Milk. It wouldn't give nutrition, but it would give calories, and the young man on the street looked like he needed calories, so I bought him the chocolate. When I came out of the shop, he reached out his hand to me and said, 'I need a miracle. Please, can you help me?' Christmas is a time for miracles, but they're not something I've ever performed, or ever expect to be able to. I knelt down and said that I didn't have a miracle, but I did have some chocolate for him and I could pray for him and the miracle he needed if he wanted me to. This is something that I have never done before - prayed for a stranger in the street like that. It's not really me, but it was all I had to offer this desperate young man sitting on the ground in my community. I don't think I'd expected him to accept my offer of prayer, but he did, so I held his hand and quietly prayed with him for the miracle he needed of getting somewhere warm and dry to stay for the night, for longer than that one night, and for the chance to get his life back on track. Afterwards he was almost in tears. He clutched his big bars of chocolate and asked if he could hug me. Again, this is something that I've never done before - hugged a homeless person - and I wavered for a second or two, but it struck me that one of the things that this man needed was human touch, and something other than that given by the police as he's moved on from wet patch of pavement to wet patch of pavement. I hugged him and he cried and he thanked me and he hugged me some more. I felt inadequate, and I felt humbled by this man's simple acceptance of prayer and chocolate as my offering to him on such a cold, wet night when what he really needed was a warm bed. I wished that I could have offered him a place to stay, but I couldn't. After a few minutes I got up and came home, but as I passed by the door to the shop also passed one of the shop keepers who was looking at the young man with disdain, and then threatened to call the police to have him moved on. I was angry. He hadn't done anything wrong. He didn't have any place to move on to. There was a genuine desperation in his eyes and I had made the choice to talk to him - he hadn't forced me to, and he hadn't forced me to give him the chocolate. I was almost mute in my anger though, and all I could think to say was, 'You'll be closing up soon. He'll go then.'
I haven't seen him since, but I have thought about him a lot. There was something about him that stirred something in me. Maybe it was that he was in the middle of my local community, rather than in the impersonal city centre. Maybe it was the desperation in his eyes. Maybe it was the time of year - the approaching festivities and the fun evening of joyful carol singing that I'd just had. Maybe it was his plea for a miracle and my inability to provide one. You find God in the strangest of places and in the most unexpect of places and people, but there was something about this young man that suggested God's presence ...
I still pray for him. I still wish I'd been able to do something more for him. I do hope that he's okay.