Some thoughts from Community Engagements Ruth Young (formerly Smith), the northern Community Engagement Adviser.
Over the last 3 months I have been downsizing, from my lovely 3 bedroom family house with large-but-manageable garden that I have lovingly tended, into my new husband’s tiny one bedroom end terrace with a backyard. All my furniture has gone, apart from an armchair and a lamp, and some of my pictures; as has crockery, cutlery, pans, utensils, fridge, washing machine, bedding, towels, garden tools, more than half my books… everything, really. At least that’s how it feels. I have shed many tears, sobbed and sighed, and stamped my feet more than a few times. I have had to be reminded more than once that this is a new beginning, a new life and a new home that we are building together, and that there are more gains than losses here: love, intimacy, companionship, fun and laughter, shared responsibility for finance and household management… Let’s not forget coming home from work to a meal already made; less housework and no ironing – my early-retired husband does all that!
And I still have my family, my friends, my work, my health – all so much more precious than ‘things’ – though I confess my newly acquired mini I-pad, given to me by my children as a wedding gift, is fast becoming indispensable! Things do have their place, of course. They just have this tendency to take more than their fair share of the bed sometimes.
In my sadder moments, I have consciously tried to bring to mind others who have given up their homes. I have found myself pondering in a deeper way on the plight of those whose homes are torn away from them, their communities destroyed, by terrorism, war and disaster. Whilst I have been gradually working through my possessions and choosing what to give up and where to give it, we have witnessed from afar Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine; now ebola in West Africa; and the early hints of famine in South Sudan. We might see the pictures but we can never imagine the reality; and we are never likely to experience it ourselves, thank God.
At home, of course, we are not immune entirely from the fallout of these disasters. A small minority of refugees make it here, seeking asylum. And what do we do? Treat them like criminals: place them in refugees centres run by private prison services, only slightly less inhumane than the camps they have escaped from; refuse them benefits – and the opportunity to work and pay taxes; deny them good healthcare, education and recreation; withdraw any access to legal representation; hide them from public view. And their trauma continues whilst we debate the shortcomings of our immigration system.
We live in one of the richest nations of the world, yet all around us, amongst our fellow citizens, there is fast-increasing dependency on foodbanks and pay day loans, rising child poverty and malnutrition, fuel poverty, destitution and homelessness… and a government and society which largely point the finger of blame and turn a blind eye to the most vulnerable victims of unjust and uncaring systems and structures.
Despite my recent ‘losses’ I have so much: a home, however small; health and strength; a good job with great colleagues; wonderful friends and a loving stable family. I see my children regularly on that new I-pad! I can visit them whenever I like by driving my nice car down well maintained motorways. I’m learning how to garden in pots and containers – we’ve had a crop of broad beans and some strawberries and blueberries; and the runner bean plants are full of red-flower-potential. I’m sharing my life with a wise, wonderful and loving husband. What more could I ask?
That God will daily give me a humble and grateful heart for all his blessings to me.