Saturday, December 22, 2012

Can't pay the heat? Then get on the bus.

(stock photo)
I recently heard a story that makes me think that there are a lot of people in Ireland for whom Christmas this year is not going to be a very pleasant time.

A friend's father went missing. He was elderly & was on a lot of medication for a serious illness which was causing him to be less compos mentis than usual. They looked everywhere, alerted the neighbours, texted & phoned everyone they could think of, & of course called the police. But as he was living in one of Ireland's larger cities there was a lot of ground to cover and several worrying hours went by with no result.

Someone who knew him happened to get on a bus in the city. Not looking for him, just going home from work. On the upper deck who should she spot but the missing man, sitting alone. Luckily she was one of the people who had been sent a text and she knew the family was looking for him. Talking to the driver she discovered he had been sitting there for at least two hours, going back and forth on the bus route from one side of the city to the other. She took charge of him and got him home to his relived family.

When I was told the story I said how lucky they had been to find him safe and well. And why, I wondered aloud, had the bus-driver, since he had seen him, not checked to see why he was sitting there all that time? 

Because, it transpired, an elderly person sitting on a bus going nowhere for hours is not an unusual sight these days. They get on the bus, using their free travel pass, and ride aimlessly for long periods of time for the simple reason that the buses are warm and they can't afford to heat their homes. 

Endless hours on an omnibus is a simple survival strategy.

I find it one of the saddest stories I've heard this Christmas-tide. And a damning indictment of our society. When the ten commandments said to 'honour your father and mother' it went on to say 'that you may live long and prosper in the land.' It wasn't an instruction to children to be good little boys and girls and do what mommy and daddy says and eat all your vegetables and go to bed on time. It was a command to society to look after their elderly. We're failing on that score in a very big way. 

And another thing: the part about prospering in the land if we obeyed that command. We're not really prospering, much are we? I'm not linking not prospering with how we treat the elderly. But I think our own lack of current prosperity would be a lot easier to take if we had the comfort of knowing that we were treating our most vulnerable well. That we really were all in this together, behaving with dignity and grace ... rather than selfishly scrabbling to protect our own little corner and all but abandoning those who aren't strong enough to do their own scrabbling.

Merry Christmas.

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