Charity / Human Kindness - 22nd December 2014
I have spent only one Christmas away from my family. That was some years ago when I found myself working as an International Election Observer in Kenya. We flew to Nairobi a week before the event and by Christmas morning the rest of the team had dispersed around the country leaving me, on my own, in a hotel in a capital city where I knew literally nobody. I was paired with our High Commissioner, who was out of Town until Boxing Day and so I was, effectively, alone.
On Christmas morning there was, amazingly, an election rally and press conference in our hotel at which one of the leading candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, now the President, was speaking so I whiled away an hour and a half watching that and then I strolled across the Square to Nairobi`s huge Anglical cathedral. The church was packed with, I would guess, a couple of thousand people and so far as I could see I was the only white face in the crowd. I was made wonderfully and joyously welcome and it began to feel a bit like Christmas Day. After the service I rang home to exchange love and wishes with Suzy and the family and then went off to join our Deputy High Commissioner whose wife had gathered up a couple of waifs and strays for lunch. Again, the hospitality was generous and the company warm and kind. I realised then more than ever before how important the people around us and near and dear to us are and how dreadful it can be to be not enjoying solitude but isolated .
I mention this now because I was listening to a local radio programme a couple of weeks ago during which the loneliness of Christmas was being discussed. I forbore to ring in and air the saga that I have now inflicted upon you, the reader, but the programme was making a powerful point: while most of us are enjoying a family Christmas and some choose solitude of their own volition there are too many of our neighbours who are forgotten and ignored at a time that is supposed, above all, to be a Christian festival.
Politicians in the pulpit, whether in dog collars or not, are not a good idea. Nevertheless, there are few tables in the land that cannot squeeze in an extra chair or that do not bear enough food to carry one extra helping. The Church of England has made much of the need for “State support for food banks” recently but my personal view is that we might all be better off by investing just a little more in emotional support and generosity. The State can do many things but individuals can do so much more. This is not “charity”, it is human kindness.