Cruelty. And kindness

Just over two weeks ago I saw a policeman talking to a resident I know well on the street, and all that went through my head was: How can I wind him up next time I see him?

Clearly, I had not learnt from the last police visitation that serious stuff can, and does, happen on our unremarkable suburban street. The next day I heard the news. An 82-year-old resident had been attacked on the pavement not far from her own front door by two teenage boys, who made off with her handbag and jewellery. ‘Attacked’ is not an exaggeration. This woman walks with a stick, but she was pushed to the ground with such force that she lost several teeth and suffered heavy bleeding from a head injury. This was at 1 o’ clock in the afternoon, when she was walking the short distance home from the local supermarket with her shopping.

The shock must have finally worn off because I can write this without wanting to punch anybody. It all sounds completely senseless. Which part does not fill you with rage and/or disbelief: ’82 years old’?’ ‘walks with a stick’? ‘pushed to the ground’? The ironic part for me was that I found out just after coming home from New Wine Women’s Day, where I’d spent most of my time either in prayer and worship or hearing about local churches helping people overcome poverty. Talk about from the sublime to the downright obscene.

Just like the aftermath of the rape back in December neighbours were all over our street Facebook page, where the news was first posted, full of horror and concern. ‘What’s happening to this area?’ was said more than once. And ‘Does anyone know how she’s doing?’

We’ve only had a Facebook page and a street mailing list since we started being a play street, but it’s at times like this that being able to communicate comes into its own. Before, only a handful of people would have known – because of the police presence – that something bad had happened, but not what or to who. Now, we were able to piece together who it was, some of the facts via several neighbours who helped her while they waited (nearly an hour) for an ambulance, and most importantly, how to communicate some kindness to the victim. We were able to email nearly 50 neighbours and post on the street Facebook page what this woman’s first name is and (not wanting to broadcast her address) offer someone else’s door number as a point of contact. This meant that more than a dozen people were able to translate their shock and horror into get well cards and (in most cases) £10 and £20 notes. After she got back from hospital (which again we would not have known if her concerned upstairs neighbour was not on the mailing list) we got to make four separate trips to her flat with flowers, chocolates and cards containing cash. I have no doubt that the money stolen from her was restored two to three times over, though I’m sure in most people’s minds the money was a a sort of attempt to restore more than that – to say don’t lose your faith in human nature, and for every callous youngster who doesn’t care if you live or bleed to death on the pavement, there are many more well-wishers who care very much and who are here for you if you need them.

I got to see her the day after she was discharged. She had stitches in her head and her face and arms were a shocking mass of bruises, but thanks to the concussion, she remembered almost nothing of the incident. She told me that her snatched handbag had contained photos of her only child, a daughter who died in her early twenties, and all she really cared about was getting those photos back. To her utter relief the police found the bag in a street dustbin with her money gone but the photos intact.

The perpetrators were arrested the next day and will have been tried by now. One neighbour suggested sentencing them to being skinned and dipped in salt. I know how he feels, though I hope the punishment is a little more constructive than that…

When she saw everything her neighbours had given her, she got quite tearful. ‘People are so kind,’ she said.

I know it’s unlikely – but I wish, hope and pray that long after the stitches, bruises and counselling are over, this is the impression that stays in her mind.

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