It’s one of those breathtakingly, crisp, clear winters mornings and the beach beckoned for what is becoming my ‘best start to the day’ along the busy, yet ironically peaceful shoreline.
There are many footprints in the sand. Indeed, it’s a veritable highway of puffer jackets and in my blissful state I take it all in.
Dogs of all shapes and fluffiness, some intent on swimming which I find particularly amusing as I consider the sodden, sandy mess shaking it out on some innocent passerby.
There are ladies in pairs and gaggles, chit-chatting their way along the lapping seashore finding never ending threads of conversation and conviviality’s. As we do.
I notice a few hand-holding young ones, perhaps having skived off work or snatching a morning break of loveliness in the sunshine.
A group of students with clipboards, intent on listening, presumably to their Geography teacher as he points at features on the shoreline and beyond – some not quite so focused and I smile inwardly as that would’ve been me.
There are toddlers on stryder bikes, babies in buggies and newborns in front-packs, all with the commonality of parents grasping takeaway cups with that all-important life source of caffeine.
No surprise to see the stealthy runner-types (not a puffer in sight, not much on at all really) and the headphone-hipsters, listening to the latest ‘en point’ podcast, I’m guessing.
The ‘over-sixties ensemble’ come into view as their daily walk is done, paper in hand, off to the coffee shop for a good old natter about the news of the day and days gone by.
Then, one of the happiest sights to behold – the strolling oldies, each slow step hand in hand, some with stick in hand. The familiarity, contentment and knowing of a lifetime together, I surmise they’re heading home for a hot cup of tea – none of this café nonsense.
And me, in my toasty bourgeois puffer jacket, having come from my ‘just a touch over 25 degrees’ very comfortable vehicle and before that, my dry and delightfully warm, double-glazed dwelling. I have a belly full of free-range scrambled eggs, homemade nut toast, topped with a handful of rocket from the garden and a double shot flat white (almond milk of course) pulsing through my veins.
Full of gratitude with that slightly cocky feeling of having a handle on the day ahead I smile and take one of those deep, life-giving breaths (in and out through the nose, because I am a wannabe yogi) and I genuinely think to myself, “life is good”.
And, it is, but you would be right to perceive just hint of cynicism in my tone.
As I look up the beach toward the playground bursting with happiness, a large umbrella catches my eye, propped up against the promenade. At first, I think nothing of it but as I try not to stare, I notice a body, almost foetal in position but facedown with what I imagine is every item of clothing they own, layered on top. There’s a small rucksack and a couple of plastic shopping bags and it now dawns on me that this person has been sleeping rough and is numb (in many senses of the word) and quite literally thawing out in the morning sun. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness as I realized the reality of this persons’ footprints being so very different from my own.
Just like everyone else, I kept walking.
My heart felt a heaviness and my mind wandered to many scenarios as I continued along, trying to rationalize that surely in New Zealand we all have equal opportunities and access to support and help when we need it, but deep down, I know this not to be true.
Yes, some people make poor decisions, some are unlucky, and no doubt, some are just plain lazy, but I also believe that many are born into families or systems where there is very little hope or possibility for change. Poverty does exist in our land of opportunity.
I don’t know this persons’ story, but I do know I’m not going to judge from a distance and part of me really wishes I’d gone to the local café and bought a hot drink and set it down beside them. Maybe next time, I will.
I guess where I’m going with this can be summed up in three words – gratitude, empathy and compassion.
There are no easy solutions for people in really difficult situations, even in our beautiful country with more than enough resource for everyone. Sadly, it can be easy to pass judgement but how can we truly know what it’s like to walk in someone elses shoes unless those footprints have been our own.
Personally, even though my daily walk still led me to that second coffee, back to my nice warm car and home to a cozy fire and fridge full of food, I stopped to think today and it reminded me to give thanks for what I have, show empathy and choose compassion.
Everyone has a footprint and for many, they are not left with ease.