Thursday, 20 November 2014

A tale of two sides

This is a tale of two sides.  This is two stories, side by side, unrelated yet somehow interconnected.  One is a story is about a great actor.  This great actor’s name is on everyone’s lips.  Even my parent’s know who he is.  But he is more than a talent, he also a man, a man with a social conscience who stands up for his human-centered beliefs.  The other story is about a pregnant woman.  A woman, who is not native to the UK but finds herself here, forced to sell the Big Issue to survive.  A woman, who is polite to everybody, even those who walk past her quickly, as if they haven’t seen her. 

Today was the usual rush and race of life for me.  A fast buggy-walk plus a bus ride to a playcentre, then a fast buggy-walk plus a bus ride back again, lunch on the move, a long walk to nursery, a small child handover, then a long solitary walk to town to resolve my mobile phone and broadband issues.  This was followed by a short break at my local library, then off again to re-embark upon that same long walk to nursery. 

Then, an interruption to my normal day – I saw the lady selling the Big Issue.  I've seen her before many times before.  When I see her, I buy the Big Issue.  When I can, I give her extra money.  More recently, I've chatted with her whilst buying the magazine.  Through doing so, I have discovered that she is pregnant.  She always wears baggy coats and hides her baby bump well so I was surprised at her pregnancy, yet she is almost full-term.  She recently told me that the father to her child has returned to his country so she is alone, young and pregnant with her first child.  Pregnancy is scary enough but alone, in a strange country, having to sell the Big Issue to exist?  That’s incredibly scary.  Yet she always smiles through the struggle.  She is always extremely gracious and polite.  Today she told me that she is sick, she told me what her illness is but I won’t share that here.  Sadly her illness may mean her baby is born early and she can’t receive treatment for her illness now because it places her unborn baby at risk.  I struggled to suitably demonstrate the empathy deserving of her position.  Not because I don’t feel it, I do, enormously but how can one offer words of empathy for such a difficult situation?  I can offer her money and some of my time but that is small comfort really. How can it be that this woman stands in the cold, selling the Big Issue, pregnant and ill?  How can this be allowed to happen?  Moreover, what can be done to ensure that people don’t have to suffer like this?  I told this lady that the person on the front of the magazine is my favourite actor.  She looked at the cover and noticed the man for the first time but I don’t think she knew who he was.  We spoke some more but then I had to rush to collect my daughter from nursery so we said goodbye and parted ways. 

A long walk, a small child handover part two, an even longer buggy-walk, one or two issues trying to locate a suitable café, a meet-up with my ex –husband, an evening meal then my ex-husband took my daughter to his house.  Before he left, he gestured to chocolate cake and ice-cream upon the café’s table.  He’d brought me some cake whilst I’d taken my daughter for toilet training and nappy change.  I thanked him, cuddled my daughter and reassured her of when I’d see her next.   They left. I sighed then sat down. 

My feet ached from all the walking but likely far less than the feet of the lady in the first story. I picked up my copy of the Big Issue and looked at the actor on the front, Benedict Cumberbatch, star of stage, screen and radio.  I turned to the interview with Benedict Cumberbatch written by Jane Graham.  It was clear from the interview that Benedict had had a long day.  He’d been interviewed for many hours, in spite of this, he, of course, spoke to Jane Graham with the charm, kindness and charisma that you’d expect from the man.  He spoke passionately of the plight of Alan Turing, the brilliant code breaker who should have been celebrated as a war hero, yet was subjected to chemical castration due to his sexual orientation. It was clear from the article that Benedict feels tremendous empathy towards Alan.  Indeed, Alan’s story is motivation enough to feel great compassion towards him but no doubt to embody a role, to become Alan Turing, would add greater depth to Benedict’s feelings of empathy. 

Benedict also spoke of life, of the human condition, of family and of giving himself to others.  As Jane said, Benedict’s words seemed to point to the idea of family and children.  Indeed, post-interview, he announced his engagement to Sophie Hunter in a discreet notice in The Times.  Benedict also spoke of a moment when he knew what he wanted to do with his life.  He described a moment where you want to drink in your feelings, to Polaroid the pivotal instant when you know where you want to go.  Today, I also had such a moment.  Today I decided I want to make a real difference.  I want to do what I can to ensure that pregnant ladies don’t have to sell the Big Issue to survive. 

So this is where the two stories intertwine.  This is where a young, pregnant, lady who is seeking asylum and a great, English, actor connect.  The lady sold me the Big Issue and Benedict was on the cover.  Coincidentally, or perhaps, by some strange design, I now know that I have to do more to help ladies like my Big Issue selling friend. 



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