Liberté, égalité, fraternité
The catchcry of the French Revolution. My European history is rusty at best, what I have learned is largely due to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Les Misérables; social upheaval as the French upper class was overthrown.
Yet in the 21st century, I found myself standing at the bottom of the former Bastille, face to face with a young, homeless family. The irony! What shocked and distressed me the most was the fact that it could have been me and my family. They weren’t the itinerant gypsies that you frequently see begging in the streets of Paris. They weren’t dirty. They weren’t immigrants or refugees. It was a family who looked like they could have been my nextdoor neighbours and our kids might have gone to the same school.
Marcus, Callum and I were on our way to get icecream and at the other end of the scale, here was this young family – they had a mattress, a stroller with their belongings, and each other. I stopped Marcus and asked him for some money to give them. I found myself looking into the dark eyes of a mother with a young child. That look will stay with me forever: gratefulness, shame, sadness. Maybe as a mother I could sympathise with that guilt, the fear of not knowing what was going to happen to your baby, of not being able to provide for your child. Maybe as a human being I was moved by the unfairness of a system that could allow a young family to become homeless.
Was I conned? Perhaps. But if I was, it was the greatest piece of street theatre I have ever seen.
It’s not only Paris that you see this. It’s everywhere. Sure most of the world has come a long way in formulating a social welfare system that theoretically is there to support its citizens. As a global-whole, we are still arguing about the best way to help the thousands of displaced families. There are obviously many gaps in the system and it is alarming and despairing that there are so many families like the one in Paris. I don’t have any answers. But I wish there was a way for all kids to have icecream.
Can I encourage you to think about one thing you can be grateful for, then can I encourage you to donate one piece of something that you don’t need or use anymore. Find your local Salvation Army/Goodwill/St Vincent’s.