A phrase I am sure many have used at some point, and with general reference to those further up the economic and social ladder to oneself. However I was to take a different approach to this age old phrase for a moment, and open your eyes (and mind) a little.
First up I want to say, this is not an egotistical ramble, nor a hunt for praise or recognition. But a genuine heartfelt appeal to others to stop for a moment and think.
A week or so ago a post was made on a community forum I frequent, SE23.com. It was asking for help with a minibus run, a driver to be precise, for an event being organised at a local church hall. From what I understood, the bus trip had been successfully done a couple of times already for Xmas and Boxing day events, but needed a driver for the final New Years Day event.
As I am far from excited about the whole Xmas and New Years thing, and never plan anything, I decided I would put myself forwards for the role. I like driving, know the area, and enjoy a challenge. At this point, I knew nothing else about the job, nor anyone else involved in the event. A few emails later, and names like Alice, Tommo and Rob (CellarDoor) were becoming common place in conversations and emails.
Finally faces were seen, and I met up with Tommo at St Hilda's Church hall in Brockley. Immediately in the mix of things, I found myself loading up the minibus that I would be driving the following week, and helping transfer everything to St Saviours Church Hall where the next event would be held. Meeting Peter and Sue in the process, these were my predecessors and had done the bus run on the past 2 days. A quick handover of the list, then off to meet the next people.
Parking the bus at Alice and Alan's house, I met the couple for the first time. Mental and social overload for me already by this point meeting 5 new people in one day.
Over the next couple of days, once it had become apparent that the bus run could not be done alone, I got in touch with Rob aka CellarDoor, and we begun to arrange how we would plan the logistics for the day. Finally agreeing to meet up, take a look at the minibus, and work things out, Alice and Alan were kind enough to play unsuspecting hosts to what turned out to be the first annual convention of some sort. My apologies again for keeping you both for so long, but Baxter is simply too adorable to be separated from without force.
Rather than dribbling on about me me me I shall fast forward a few more days to New Years Day. Agreeing to get to the hall for about 7.30 on the day was maybe a decision that I made in haste, however it was a good choice in the end. Having roped my niece and nephew into helping at short notice, I picked them up bright and early, and we went to the hall. On walking in, we got straight into potato peeling and Calum (nephew) got started putting the tables out. Rob arrived a little while after, and again got stuck into the spuds with myself and Daryl, leaving Tommo to get on with other things too. Time flies when you have 10kg+ of potatoes to peel, and before we knew it, it was time to get the run started.
All at short notice, a little more help arrived with the driving, in the shape of Elisabeth, Liz or Lizzy depending on who was speaking to her at the time (all one person, and I thought I struggled with Michael or Snazy) and EJ was also on hand to drive. Just before heading out Rob also agreed to drive, so Calum was left helping me on the bus.
Now this is where 'them and us' really starts. All I knew was, we had a list of names and addresses. These were people invited along to the event, and they would come from various social groups, from elderly to isolated. Little did I realise at the time, but I in fact isolate myself to some degree, and as time passed on the day I would realise it more. Calum also is quite an introvert, so this would be a challenge for him also, but a good exercise in operating outside your comfort zone.
Picking the first few people up, it was a great start with some chatty elderly ladies, delightful in conversation, and immediately I began to feel at ease, and slipped into relaxed conversation. With each stop, a different social aspect was added to the group, and soon I started to realise that we are not all the same. In fact in such a small minibus, we were already putting together one of the most diverse groups of social soup I have ever been a part of. But rather than an awkward silence as you see in most confident social groups, when you add an unknown quantity, this group adapted, making the new piece fit, and rearranging itself to accommodate the change.
For a group if people, most who didn't know one another, some who were quite clearly not used to interacting with a group of this size, and in such close quarters, it was amazing to see how such a complex and diverse group of people could just adapt to a constantly changing situation. I have to add that it was also a pleasure to be an ingredient in this social soup as I call it.
By the end of the minibus runs, once the whole group was assembled in the hall for the days events, it was even more intriguing to see how the dynamic continued to change, and evolve. Sub groups developing, people finding their comfort zones, but mostly maintaining conversation. All helped along by another amazing group. The volunteers.
It is an honour to include myself in this group, and I was dumbstruck by how strong minded, and focused each volunteer was. Each with their own individual skill, somehow the people who had put themselves forward to help on this day came together as a faultless and capable crew, who together could achieve all tasks thrown at them. Serving, decorating, clearing, conversing, entertaining, assisting, you name it, it was going on.
As the day drew to an end, and as the guests were slowly dropped back off home, I realised that I had been a part of a fantastic, amazing, and revealing day. I know for a fact that Calum and Daryl both benefited in some way from the day. The social interactions, the challenges, and the insight into how others live their lives. For me also, the chance to socialise and interact with social groups that I would not usually have reason to. I think I learned more about myself in the past few days, than I have in a long time, and hope others came away with the same.
When I said at the start 'how the other half live' What I in fact meant was, we all THINK we understand the person on the bus who won't make eye contact, or the person in the shop queue who just wants to strike up a conversation. We guess they are a little bit different to us, and for that reason, stay comfortable, don't engage in conversation, and play it safe. But maybe if we exercised our minds a little from time to time, stretched our boundaries and gave a little of our precious time more often, we would not only do something positive for someone, but also learn something new each time we dare to dive right in.
Life isn't about playing the hero, or being a saint. But it's also not meant to be about just yourself, or being the best of everyone. Its about being a part of society as a whole, playing a role, and doing the right thing.
In the past week, I have truly expanded my horizons, reached WAY outside my comfort zone, and reconnected with the person inside me that wants to be there for others whenever I can.
So thank you sincerely to everyone I have met, socialised with, and interacted with in the last week. Thank you for the awakening from within that I so badly needed. What a fantastic way to start a new year.
So.... next time you look up the food chain and think to yourself, 'it's alright for some', just remember, it's pretty tough for many more people other than yourself. Sure there is always someone better off, but I guarantee there are 10 more who are worse off for ever one that is better off.
Thank you for reading :)