Nearly six weeks after 40acts, I have found myself still yearning for more of my own life to be transformed by that glimpse of godly generosity I saw during the seven weeks. It is so easy to walk away and wait for Lent next year to be generous once again, but with the world as it is right now, I am more inspired than ever to be someone who brings hope and goodness.
A couple of weeks ago I was in central London fairly late in the evening, having just finished photographing a gig. We were about to go for drinks when a man called Terry came over to me outside the bar. He was selling his last magazine, and needed £8 to get into a hostel for the night. To be honest, I’ve given money to people before for shelters and seen them intoxicated the next day. So as a general rule, I tend to opt for another way to help.
Terry looked frozen and tired. So with Byron Burger in sight, I suggested going to buy him some dinner. He peeked at the menu and just asked for some chips. A part of me thought this was a great option – it would be quick to serve and wouldn’t leave too much of a dent to my bank account…
But before I had even really registered the thought, I hear myself telling Terry to order whatever he would like. A burger, chips and a drink, even dessert if he fancied. I say that if he wants, we can eat inside and stay in the warm for a bit.
He ordered a burger and chips but told me that we should stay in the appointed waiting area as he didn’t want to disturb the people in the restaurant.
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. He thought he would disturb people just by being in their presence…
As Terry waited with me, he began to tell his story. I learned how our social care system had failed both him and his mum. How no one fought for him when his mother passed away. How he searched for help but turned to alcohol for relief. How he had put himself into rehab, and was now 12 weeks clean, but the struggle was still extremely raw.
He described the vicious cycle of not being able to afford somewhere to live, but no one taking a chance on employing him so he could earn money.
The biggest kick for me was when he said he could take the cold and the sleeping rough but it was people’s rejection that was hurting him most. He said that people wouldn’t look at him, talk to him; very few would say anything even if they bought his papers. Dinner at Byron was a first since he’d been out of rehabilitation.
Terry asked if I would mind waiting while he went out to sell his last paper. It left me with a few minutes to think over what he had just told me…that rejection was the thing that was hurting him the most. The very thing that we ALL have the capacity to ensure doesn’t happen.
You don’t need money for it, or even that much time. Just a flicker of a smile and a nod of acknowledgement can make all the difference. Then I realised… I could have bought Terry dinner and walked off, or just given him the £8, or just walked by. But this little piece of human interaction was the most he had had in 12 weeks, and possibly the most he was going to get for another 12.
This chance meeting was just half an hour all in all. As he walked me back to the bar we parted with a hug; him clutching the unsold magazine in one hand, the brown bag of deliciousness in the other, and a smile on both our faces.
Since 40acts, it feels personally at times like not much has changed. I stick my headphones in on the way to work, walk past the NME distributors without looking up and haven’t even thought about increasing my financial giving.
But my attitude is changing, and it’s like a silk worm in my head. One strand of silk, one generous thought or act. Then a few weeks later, it inspires another, adding another strand. Soon, I hope, there will be an entire web of those threads in my mind, too big to ignore.
I’m not sure what happened to Terry, whether he got the £8, whether he sold the last magazine or even if he’s still in London. But I know that I am changed by that encounter.
Meeting Terry inspired me again to not just do Lent generously… But do life generously.