Operation Sparkle: All That Glitters Is Not Gold Or Silver, Sometimes It’s a Sarnie
Holding an attitude of gratitude, particularly at this time of year, can sometimes be a challenge. But finding a mission that’s bigger than you and taking even the smallest steps to support another is worth it. Cue Operation Sparkle.
I WAS shopping for a Christmas tree last night. Not just any Christmas tree. This year we are throwing tradition and caution to the wind. Not for us the usual au naturel look with pine cones, deep red ribbons, berry garlands, cinnamon sticks and carved ornaments. Christmas 2018 in the Thornton-Clearwater household is going to be different. Very different. We’re going sparkle-tastic!
Mid-life crisis? Possibly, although given the average life expectancy for UK females I’m well past that mid-life point (I’m working hard to smash that limiting belief. I’m not a staunch royalist but I still want my telegram from the queen, or should I say king?). So, what is this festive change all about? A moment of menopausal madness? A feeble attempt at being ‘on trend’ with my festive decs?
Does it matter? Who cares? All I do know is that my twinkling home will have enough sparkle to resurrect the late, great Danny LaRue or at least get him shimmying in his grave.
Whatever the reason, we are leaving our traditional tree in the eaves (perhaps another reason for our change of festive décor? Who wants to climb up a ladder to get into a loft with ‘fearsome’ eight leggeds waiting to dive bomb you while flashing their fangs? Okay, a slight exaggeration but you get my point.
Goodbye greens and deep reds, hello silvers, purples, pinks, turquoise, sparkling deer of all shapes and sizes, tonnes of tinsel and even a light up Christmas ‘pressie’ in neon colours.
Let’s hope it’s not a migraine in the making. Time and Operation Sparkle will tell.
Anyway, after checking where we were on the tinsel scale, there was one thing missing to complete the sparkly/tacky look — a black Christmas tree!
Really? Yes, really.
So, next stop a well-known supermarket chain to hunt one down.
Walk Of Shame
It was quite a lot colder last night. A real nip in the air as my dear dad would have said. I was grateful for my thick scarf and coat.
Walking into the cold wind I increased my pace and headed for the door. Then that awkward, guilt-inducing moment. Not one, but two rough sleepers — a woman on one side of the door and a man and his dog on the other. Oh shit, what to do? Make eye contact, don’t make eye contact? Smile? Ignore? Walk on by? Oh, it’s all horrid, but it’s real, it’s happening and it’s in my town. I’m betting it’s in your town too.
Statistics published by the Government this year revealed rough sleeping in England has increased for the seventh year running and charities say even this steep rise fails to capture the true level of street homelessness.
So, you spot a homeless person on the streets near you, what would you do? What DO you do?
Last night, head down, I walked on. As I often do. Wracked with guilt but doing NOTHING. Sometimes I give someone a few quid, but does a young woman carrying her life in a plastic bag count for more than an elderly man with a duffle coat that’s seen better days? How do I choose? I can’t help them all. Then sometimes I wonder am I fuelling their drug/drink habit? In black and white as I read this back this last admission adds to my shame, but it’s my truth and I’m sure it’s the truth of others if we’re honest.
Now, I’m not here to pass judgements on anyone.
I just want to share with you what happened last night and why it was different from other encounters with the homeless.
My Real Mission
Was it the right thing to do? Probably not the ultimate good deed but it was a start.
You see there were no black Christmas trees in the store and it was then that I discovered my real mission for the evening.
No hesitation, just swift movement with purpose.
Next stop one of those little sections at the front of the supermarkets selling sarnies and snacks. One minute later and I was holding two cans of coke (sugar, energy — that was the way my mind was working), two sandwiches (ham and cheese and BLT — hoping their recipients weren’t Vegan) and a packet of dog treats. A grand total of £6.30.
I wished there was a hot drink counter. That would have been better this cold night. Hell, I’m sure there would have been more nutritious options, maybe I should have been a bit more creative and bought them a blanket? Yes, I could have chosen more wisely perhaps, but acting on a human to human level, in that moment I chose to do SOMETHING. A simple gesture.
Sometimes it’s all it takes to make a positive difference, right? Does this altruistic act allay my guilt? A little, ‘yes’. But perhaps that was the only food those two people and that little dog ate yesterday? Maybe they’d filled their faces just before I arrived or were to benefit from another passing shopper after I had long gone. It didn’t matter. There were only a few words between us. Next time I might just stop and have a proper chat. That’s important too.
It was the briefest of moments but it was a moment. Just a few minutes out of the pre-Christmas rush, outside of my busy ‘schedule’. And yes, there was eye contact and the slightest touch of hands. I smiled at their ‘thank you’ and headed to the warmth of my car with its powerful heater so I could go home to my cosy, tinsel-tastic house complete with sparkling unicorns and light up parcels.
Striding out with purpose I forgot about the head cold that had been plaguing me over the past few days and which I’d allowed to turn me into a moaning Minnie. Then it hit me. Imagine feeling rough and living rough all at the same time? Having nothing but a street corner, a doorway, an alleyway to ‘rest’ your head? I’m sure I wouldn’t last a night on the streets, especially in this weather. If the cold and damp seeping into my bones didn’t get me the averted gazes and ‘happy families’ laden with festive gifts would be enough to send me into a mental health tailspin. I’m sure of that.
Glorious Gut Feeling
It’s a powerful act when you throw caution to the wind, when you break a cycle and do something different. Whether it’s ditching tradition with your festive decorations and going sparkle-tastic or choosing to buy a sandwich for a fellow human being.
Doing something positive for someone else helps put things in perspective too, doesn’t it? Do you get that wonderful feeling in your gut? I do. Like someone or something’s poured warm honey on your soul and you’re lit up from the inside out. Does it stir an attitude of gratitude deep down inside you?
Not had that experience? Try it. Go on, I challenge you. And if at this point those cynical mind monkeys are chattering and saying ‘what’s the point?’ then have a word with them. That’s even more reason to tell them to shut up so you are free to go do something different, to make that choice and buy a sarnie for a stranger.
Help another human being this festive season, hell any season, and see your soul sparkle as bright as my decorations this year. Then drop me a line and tell me how you got on.
Check out the homeless charities listed here and see how you can help out or contact another organisation for the homeless in your local area.
Asha Clearwater is an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualified journalist who’s been a news reporter, features editor and arts editor, as well as editor of several national business magazines.
Today, through her business Turquoise Tiger, she coaches SMEs on the art of great storytelling to promote their products and services.
Asha occasionally freelances as a writer for national magazines and is even behind some of the information boards you’ll find strolling through Woodland Trust Forests.