I’ve been meaning to start writing this blog for months, but you know how it is. Life gets in the way – and I’ve been busy.
Still, as I sat here tonight in my nice, warm, comfy house, I was jolted into action by a Facebook post from a friend of mine who happened to mention this:
The Rucksack Project – Go to charity shops, get a rucksack, sleeping bag, flask (fill with hot soup), spoon, gloves, hat, fleece, undies, socks and extra food, take it out and give it to a homeless person. That’s it. As it says on the Facebook page, it’s really simple, costs very little, and should only take an hour of your time.
It struck a nerve. I’m sitting here in my nice, warm, comfy house, and some people aren’t.
We all see sad stuff on the TV and in the news, and we all think sad thoughts for a moment or two about those poor bastards out on the street in the cold. Then we shrug, wander off, and pour another glass of wine. The reason I was stopped in my tracks is because I could have been one of those people. I guess we all could, but seriously, I nearly was one of those people. Yet, here I am. Gorgeous family. Decent business. Big house. Audi. Seriously – how the very fuck?
I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of it here and now, but I was a very troubled teenager. Nothing a few years of counselling couldn’t eventually sort out, but let’s just say that those in charge of my upbringing made some mistakes which meant (at the time at least) that they were a right set of dickheads. They’re OK now though. We’ve all learned a lot, forgiven each other, and moved on a fair bit.
So, in about 1994, my broken home was no place for a troubled teen, so off I fucked. Thank God for the YWCA. Had it not been for their fantastic hostel in the middle of a rotting council estate at the arse end of the city – which had a space and took in what was left of my thin, broken, anorexic, panicked frame – I would surely have ended up on the streets. I stayed in the hostel for almost a year while I finished my GCSEs, got an education no school could provide, hostel-hopped a little more, and eventually, after some help from the Powers That Be, found and moved into my own flat. While the other residents had all come from a variety of different – troubled – backgrounds, I was known fondly as “the posh one” and it was there I realised that having a smattering of blue blood didn’t make me any better than anyone – especially when you’ve run out of food and the only option is to walk back into town to the soup kitchen and share a polystyrene cupful of warmth with people who really did have it tough. Suddenly, being one of the lucky ones with a roof was all the posh we needed to be. As we sat huddled together at the back of House of Fraser, trying not to notice the winter coat collection adorning the senseless bodies of the stiff, lifeless mannequins in the window, those people who could barely even afford elbow patches were my friends. Good friends.
That winter, a representative from a local superstore turned up at the hostel out of the blue, with a Christmas hamper for all of us, full of winter essentials, as well as a few treats. I’ve never forgotten my sense of astonishment that people who didn’t even KNOW us were prepared to give up their time and money to give an amazing gift to strangers – and the fact that some of us had had a difficult time was immaterial. I’ve never felt more grateful for anything in my life, because it was a gift that didn’t have to be given, and nothing was expected in return. At a time when we desperately needed it, that gift gave us all a sense of worth and the feeling that maybe there were good people out there. I’ll never say that the hamper changed my life (insofar as the contents only kept me going for a few days but didn’t include the tools I needed to completely start from scratch,) but that feeling of somebody caring was enough to make me carry on and fight on through. I’m not even saying that’s why I’ve gone on to make an apparent success of my life, but that gift was certainly a key factor in changing my view of the world – no longer an enemy, but a potential friend. This is why the Rucksack Project is important, but it’s why any giving is important.
I’m not saying that giving a rucksack full of warmth will change someone’s life forever. It won’t. But that moment of kindness – karma, paying it forward, Christianity, whatever you want to call it – will make somebody’s life a little bit easier, especially over the winter months. It’s for reasons like this that I’m a member of my local church. Not to listen to all the old biddies in the choir bleat on about whether or not they sang the anthem correctly, but because of the worker ants in the congregation helping out at soup kitchens and sending shoeboxes full of loving gifts to places that really need them – thus displaying the true meaning of Christianity, which (in my opinion) is merely about friendship, fellowship and love, rather than some invisible deity (and if He exists at all, by the way, MY God has a bloody good sense of humour and thinks swearing is hilarious.)
When my family and I fill our rucksacks and our shoeboxes, I hope the people who receive them get the same feeling from our little gift as I did from that hamper in 1994. I still have that hamper here – a constant reminder of where I’ve been, and where I’ve yet to go.
Love Fanny x