WAITING for the 8.18pm bus in the CBD I was reading a novel when “Jack” approached me asking how long until the next bus, “Twenty-five minutes to go,” I said.
“Ah, right,” he paused, then said, “sometimes it’s so hard to keep on going I feel like ending it (mentioning a suicide method).”
In that moment I had a choice – keep on reading and pretend I hadn’t heard his last comment or actively listen.
I choose the latter and words spilled out of Jack’s mouth as if he’d waited a while to tell someone his situation.
Jack is 75 years old, had been a meatworker until retirement and his wife, a woman of the “highest quality”, had died 15 years ago – “Life had been hard ever since.”
His 45-year-old child is a drug addict and he doesn’t understand it.
“I’ve never taken drugs in my life and I haven’t smoked or drank since I was 30,” he said.
Gently I asked Jack about other things in life, where he met his beloved, did he have any other children.
I was aware I couldn’t solve any of his problems but I could sit with him.
Jack and I found some common ground around music and knee problems, which he referred to as “kneemonia”.
Later in the conversation I told him it hurt my heart hearing he thought of ending his life.
Jack said every day was a struggle but promised he wasn’t going to suicide.
I was happy to hear this, I was also happy to hear Jack say he felt comfortable with me.
The things that made Jack happy now are a good steak when he could afford it and a good movie on TV, “but not the midday movies, they’re rubbish”.
Prior to chatting to Jack I thought I was engrossed in my book but this paled when hearing about his ordinary, extraordinary life story.
As he spoke it was clear he married the love of his life and cherished her.
He said the “little things” his wife did every day mattered.
While Jack said his wife was “not religious”, it is clear she lived a life aligned to St Mother Teresa, “being faithful in small things”.
Once on the bus, Jack came and sat next to me as if we had known each other for a long time.
When I got off the bus I found myself elated at being trusted with someone’s life story.
I’m glad I listened.
Indeed, another of Mother Teresa’s sayings rang true, “Each one is Jesus in disguise.”
The bus journey also brought home another truism from the saint. “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everyone, is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat,” Mother Teresa said.
The night before catching the bus with Jack I was at the Vinnies CEO Sleep Out.
Here I was energised as CEOs asked questions about the works of Vinnies and Rosies Friends on the Street to support people who are homeless.
Being out in the cold together was a great leveller and created a sense that “we’re all in this together”; similar to waiting in the cold for the bus with Jack.
The CEO Sleep Out with some of Brisbane’s best business minds was energising.
However, this event was eclipsed as I drove home and went to drop off a bag of clothes in a Vinnies bin.
Out of nowhere I heard someone shout, “Rosies, hey Rosies!”
It took me a second or two to realise the person was calling me as I had forgotten I was still wearing my red Rosies shirt.
A young lady whose face looked as though she’d endured some tough circumstances started walking towards me.
I asked if she would like the bag of clothes.
Delighted, she grabbed the bag, while giving me a hug then disappeared again.
I could not have asked for a more perfect way to finish the night.
Later in the week I was sharing the experience with Sr Maeve Heaney, who had just finished a talk on serving the poor.
“It’s the little things that matter; these are the things that really make our day,” she said.
I could not have agreed with her more.
Her wisdom, similar to Jack’s wisdom on little things echo Mother Teresa’s, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
If you or a loved one would like to talk to someone call Lifeline on 131 114 or Centacare on 1300 258 322. Your local GP, your parish priest or pastoral associate may also be a good person to chat to about life.
By Clare Burns