by Aubrey Simmons
The lyrical artists Dry the River drones in one of their songs, “As heavy as the history books can be, come carry them with me.” As I thought about a person that would be the epitome of an Australian born and raised citizen this song kept making me ponder, who is it that really knows what it means to hold the heaviness of the history book in their hands? After coming to the young nation of Australia I became aware that the Australian history book is comparatively thin and sparse, however, it is still ink blotted with hardship and is heavy with grief. As I began to get to know the homeless population in Sydney, I was bombarded day by day with the depth of hurt and isolation that they feel on an hourly basis. They are on the outside, on the fringes, looking in. The homeless are the people who tell the story of what it means to be affected and dejected as a result of various events in their history. The homeless are the epitome of the Australian battler, which characterizes this country.
A wise fortune cookie once instructed me with the Chinese proverb, “We see what is behind our eyes”. Before getting to know those people who sink into the landscape of the city, I had been seeing what was behind my own eyes. I thought I knew what they were like and why they had ended up begging and isolated to the streets. Perception is a funny thing. I have realized that most of the time my perceptions are truly tinted, tainted, and terribly mistaken! I was not actually seeing the people who I walked past everyday on the streets in Sydney. Homeless people do not have one face, nor is it their lack of address that defines them.
I cannot even begin to recall all of the stories that I was privileged to hear, but one man in particular changed my views of homelessness completely. He said, “I am in an ebb and flow, one day I may be on the streets and the next someone might be by my side helping me to aspire to something better. I’m just always trying to pay it forward. Today you may be helping me, but tomorrow I might be in the position of helping you.” Hospitality was being shown to me by the homeless in that one statement. He was inviting me to see what it means to have true fellowship and community. Another man said, “I am a very lonely man. My heart is so filled with love that it hurts like hell and there is nobody to give it to – or to be more precise, I come across so very few people who will receive it…but sometimes another bloke tries to help you and you know that’s what mates are for.”
I realized that there is no pretense on the streets in Australia. They treat each other with true comradery. On the streets is where true mateship occurs. Coming into homeless ministries I felt naïve and the only thing that I knew for certainty was— that I did not understand any of them at all. As my Mary-Janes became smoldered by the city streets, however, one thing I know now is that the face of the homeless cannot be pinned down, just as their address cannot be placed in distinctly one location. The homeless are the true Australian battlers who have seen all there is to see in the Australian life. It is not about coming to the homeless to try figure them out and to dissect them, but to hear about everything their history book contains, with all its pains and burdens, and to help them carry their memories and their fears.