Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

At the Rosie's party yesterday there was a 'Santa' who was walking around merrily handing out... cigarettes. Yep, it was a different Christmas to what I was generally used to.

I got up and thanked my friends for letting me sleep over, "that was a great Christmas present!", and headed back into the city. The streets were mostly empty, a few people around, it might be the quietest day of the year, before the storm of Boxing Day bargain sales would burst and batter the pavements with hundreds of jostling feet, tripping over each other, to reach the pinnacle of the bargain shopping tree.

But not today. As I walked around I noticed many homeless and marginalized people. There was one on every street corner. I wondered if they had come into the CBD in greater numbers because it was Christmas day, or for some other reason? Or, if it was just that with the normal crowds and people away from the streets of the city the homeless were now more visible? As if all the coloured smarties had been removed from a packet, just leaving the blue ones behind, on their own. A woman in a red coat asked me for a couple of dollars to buy some food. I gave her a dollar and said that there was a free meal on at the CoH in an hour, "Really?" She seemed excited and interested, and I said to meet me at FSS in an hour and I would show her where it was. She never turned up.

The 1st Christmas:
Outside the Hungry Jacks, near the FSS, I found Goaty. He said he had slept in front of the store until it opened, and he was asked to move on. It had been a cold night, though he was pleased to report a passerby had given him a jacket to wear, which helped. I felt a little guilty that I had in a nice warm flat, while he had been out here dealing with the elements. He introduced me to Robbie, an indigenous man, who seemed well liquored up already, or perhaps just had the shakes and slur from a lifetime of alcohol abuse. He might be sober?! I was not sure. He told me that in 20 years he had never paid for a tram ticket, and was never bothered by the inspectors. A little ironic, the inspectors are paid to hassle fare avoiders, and yet there are those in the social system that even they choose to ignore.

Goaty and I went for a walk. He wanted to show me the alley where the McDonalds sometimes threw out their burgers, no longer fit for consumption by health regulations, but for Goaty a feast. We turned into the alley and it was piled high with rubbish. With over 40 bins and mounds of stuff everywhere, I thought perhaps the garbos had been on strike. We wandered in and down the back. A few McDonalds employees stood at their back exit, and Goaty standing near an overturned rubbish crate, said, "I didn't do it," and started picking up the rubbish and putting it back in the crate. The overturned crate and the employees were already there before we came along, so I wondered why Goaty immediately assumed he was seen as a guilty party, when no one had even accused him of anything? Perhaps that's the way he had been treated many times in the past? Homeless person = guilty for messy bins? I can probably never know. The supervisor came over and said it was cool, his staff would clean it up, and then told an employee to go and get us a burger each. "Merry Christmas" he said, and we thanked him, and took the burgers, as they pulled down their roller door.

We sat down in the corner and ate. Goaty pointed out a small hole in the wall nearby. It went through to a locked closet and he said to keep it in mind if I needed a place to sleep, as he had used it once in the past. He listened to some AC/DC on his headphones and then asked if I would talk to his mum on the phone for him. I said ok, and asked if he wanted to speak to her as well, but he just wanted me to say hello and Merry Christmas to her, on his behalf. We got up and went to a pay phone down the street. He dialed but there was no answer. He rang some other relatives and discovered she was away on holidays in Queensland and couldn't be reached. Then it started pouring down with rain, and then the hail stones. Goaty rummaged through a bin and got two cups, went over to where it was pouring down off a roof and put the cups under the falling water. He said there was nothing as good as rain water. I was skeptical about drinking it and was relieved when he changed his mind and decided that the water might contain aluminium from the roof, and it might poison and kill you after a few days. So he tipped the water back out. Then along came Mirror, and she asked us if we were coming to the CoH for Christmas lunch. I said I would be there shortly. Goaty wasn't interested in going and just wanted to wander around the city some more, and so I wished him a Merry Christmas and said goodbye.

The 2nd Christmas:
I headed up to the Church of Hope, where there were about 30 people meeting for the community lunch. It was organized by the Glen Waverley AOG Church, which was mainly Sri Lankan. I spoke with one of the pastors from there. She was interest in what I was doing but made the point that poverty in Melbourne was very different to 'real poverty' in developing countries, like Sri Lanka.

The food was really good, with the full Christmas spread, and plenty of it. They made a point of checking that we, the visitors, were satisfied, encouraging us to go get more, and when we were full they made up containers of leftovers for us to take and eat later. Everybody seemed happy and having a good time. A number of street people were there and everyone was talking, which was good as there are usually a few loners about. Mirror and another girl got up and sang some carols, which were very different sounding ones to what I was used to, which made it refreshing. When they finished everyone applauded. There was a real sense of community there.

The 3rd Christmas:
After lunch I trained back out to my parents place. When I got there everyone was opening presents. I was asked to hand some out, but I declined. I didn't feel like handing out what were largely unneeded material things, when I had just spent time with others that had nothing. Not to say that I think presents are bad, as there is the good will with them, just that I think they would be much better if they were gifts based on useful need, rather than flippant nicetys. And that's the hard part, but in my case I was pleased to receive a couple of 10 journey transport passes. They were useful to me and not an over waste of money, so I was thankful. Also it was nice that no-one said anything about there being no gifts from me this year. I wasn't giving any, as I hadn't any money to spend, and was also in solidarity with other poor people who can't afford to give gifts, and I was also not expecting any gifts, and that's the best way to receive; when you're not expecting anything.

The rest of the night was good. I did have an issue with someone that I initially wrote about here, as I thought it was very relevant to my story, but the person was not happy that I wrote about it publicly, and so I have since removed it.

Wrapping it up:
So I experienced Christmas at three different levels of the social spectrum, learning lessons and developing relationships at each one. The gift of Jesus is a gift given to everyone, needed by everyone, but not wanted by everyone. I hope I can share this gift with everyone I meet, and that they will accept it.

Merry Christmas Everyone ~!!

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