The bus journey to work and back isn’t just a practicality- it offers me ample time to examine humans of all shapes, dialects and sizes. On some elusive yet worthy days, I share magical moments with strangers I know I’ll probably never see again. Those moments are enough to outweigh the increasing fare costs, harassment and waiting times that occupy the life of the commuter.
A few weeks ago, during my thirty minute wait at the interchange, I was approached by a man who I later learned was called Paddy. Keeping his distance, he initially came over to ask for some change, so I obliged naturally. This very basic interaction somehow developed into a pretty substantial talk. I mean, we talked right until my bus came about a plethora of things including his life, my life, the life of the average Joe scraping together pennies in Britain and the beautiful Tories to which we direct no frustrations at all… Paddy was really grateful that I took the time to talk to him- I know this because he told me this several times and also that it was nice to just be able to talk to people sometimes without being judged and dismissed from the onset. He also said that he accepted his place in life and didn’t blame anybody but himself for putting himself there- Paddy made it very clear that he wasn’t homeless, that a small stint of rebelliousness in his youth resulted in the tarnishing of his criminal record and thus the problematic cycle of unemployment. Paddy also said that some mornings he wakes up and wonders why he’s stuck around.
From just a few details, I was able to paint a pretty clear picture of Paddy’s existence. I found that as much as it deeply upset me to hear somebody admit to finding solace in the idea of death, I didn’t pity him. Instead, I imagined all the people who spent their days forging an obliviousness to the very tangible Paddy on his journey around the city and pitied them. Not for failing to provide him with money, but rather for failing to see him as a human being.
Isn’t it strange that dehumanisation (the very same process related to, for example, The Holocaust), is still so prevalent today? Human beings who, for all we know, have been dealt the worst of cards in life still find the strength to wake up and deal with the prejudice hundreds of years in the making. Human beings just like me and you. We don’t know each other’s stories and yet we’re so quick to formulate a mental template to justify ignorance or avoidance. To ignore the problems that are mental health issues, unemployment, homelessness or addiction aren’t to fix them.
Depression, as we all know, is an ugly illness that can drag you down to your lowest and loneliest. The faces of friends and family become a distant circle of people you want to confide in, but feel you can’t. I’ve watched many loved ones face their own personal downward spirals into the darkest places as well as clawed at the walls from the inside, too. It occurred to me, however, that Paddy and many others face this journey practically alone. Who’s there to intervene and get him help? Who would notice if Paddy wasn’t around tomorrow? Would anybody even care?
The scariest thing to consider is that with enough ignorance, a person can be led to believe that they’re not worthy of being seen. Who are we to determine this? No person should be invisible. Eventually, they’ll no longer exist thanks to our failure to show at least a moment of compassion in passing. To be acknowledged with eye contact is a small victory for somebody so used to being overlooked, at least that’s what I gathered from Paddy who I’ve not since encountered.
Talking to Paddy really stirred something in me, a frustration that has led to this spontaneous ‘rant’ because I don’t really know where else to put these feelings. In a city as diverse and yet divided as Bradford, we owe it to ourselves to experience in full the gratification of beauty in our differences. Instead we file on, earphones embedded in our skulls and music drowning out most chances of communication with others. What a beautiful life we’re missing out on.