Sunday, 15 September 2013

Alex In The Image Of God

I was hurrying out yesterday afternoon to do some shopping, and then I noticed him - a young man, lying slumped against a wall. Going up to him, I shook him gently by the shoulder and asked him if he were OK. No reply, but I could see he was breathing.

One lady passing by asked me if I knew him - and when I said I didn't, she suggested I just leave him as he was clearly drunk. Now, I get dizzy spells, and if I'm out walking it probably looks like I've had a bit too much to drink (I am actually teetotal). And, just because a young man has keeled over, it can be due to many things beside drunkenness.

I did walk on, feeling uneasy. Just beyond him was a market stall, and the stallslady had seen me looking at him, and before that she hadn't noticed him. She said she'll keep an eye on him.

The traffic was going slowly, and as I walked back to Shirley precinct, saw a police car. I indicated to it to stop, and the policeman inside it rolled down the window. I explained about the man and he said he would have a look.

The policeman couldn't wake him up, so put on latex gloves and tried to find that man's wallet. This identified him as Alex. The stallslady came over and said that she had been keeping an eye on him but hadn't seen him collapse. A hoodie was walking along and then he told us that he had seen Alex about an hour earlier walking up from the Freemantle direction.

ALso passing was a young girl, who looked at the scene, tugged her mum's hand and asked what had happened. I didn't want to expose her to the adult world, so told her that the man was not well and had fallen over, the policeman was checking he was OK, and if he wasn't, an ambulance would come and take him to hospital where he would be looked after till he got better.

A few minutes later an ambulance did indeed arrive, and the two paramedics and the policeman got Alex - still unconscious - onto a stretcher and put him in the recovery position, before strapping him in and taking him into the ambulance. After another few minutes the policeman got out of the ambulance and it went on its way. I thanked him for his help, and said that once I'd seen the man, he had become my responsibility - and the reply was that he had become the policeman's responsibility and then the paramedics', He thanked me for doing the right thing, and said that Alex was indeed drunk, and like that he could have choked to death on his own vomit.

What was it that compelled me to stop and act? I have to say that emotional blackmail isn't something that moves me, to be honest. If I get one of these envelopes through the post (with a free pen) with an image of an old lady and something along the lines of "Mavis is scared and lonely. She needs your help" on it (rather than in a letter inside), then, sorry, my heartstrings don't get manipulated. Especially when you reflect that it's probably from a charity run by someone claiming a six-figure salary and driving a top-of-the-range company car.

And if you walk along Shirley Road (aka "The Mutant Mile") you get used to people who think they are entitled to a passer-by's money. And so you learn to be a bit cynical of the elaborate sob story.

For example, a couple of years ago I was approached by a young man. He had, he said, been mugged the evening before so had no money. And he needed money for medicine, but his benefits had run out that week - so it sounded like an unfortunate week. Something sounded fishy, especially when he said if I gave him my name and address, he would ensure that when he did get money, he would pay me back. A few days later I overheard him talking to another passer-by - sounded very tragic as yet again he had been mugged the evening before and needed money for medicine.

Or one woman who was staggering around one evening not wearing much. She had, apparently, just been released from hospital and needed money. I said I didn't have any, so got a mouthful from her, ending with her hoping that when I have a "f**king heart attack" no-one comes to my help.

A third case was a woman who had just left the police station and came up to me to tell me her purse had gone missing and she needed money to get a bus home. After talking for a bit, I gave her some money and she went and waited at the right bus stop.

When I lived in Brighton there was some impressive begging. Call me a heartless bastard, but I lost sympathy for one of them after the death of a third grandmother in the space of a few months - and just like the last two, he loved her a lot, and needed money to go to the funeral.

The in-yer-face begging doesn't move me. Seeing someone who is clearly in need does.

After all, we are made in the image of God - that is what separates us from the animals, and this is what makes us human.

Someone carried Alex in her womb for 9 months. People must have cooed over him as a baby and he must have brought joy to people's lives. And then something happened. I have no idea what.

That image of God gets distorted and violated by sin - our own and other people's. We all hurt others - we all have our lives damaged to some extent by our own actions and other people's.

Was Alex my responsibility? Yes - his path and mine crossed and he was in need. Christianity is centred on Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who went out of His way to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7).

Alex will not remember me. I will at best be a footnote in his story - but it is possible that without me, his story would have ended yesterday. Afterwards, I made sure I was praying for him, that there will be other Christians he meets who will fill up chapters of his story.

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