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A Long Walk Home

Dear Inner Circle,

Context matters. There is a beautiful man who is well known and loved in the Bondi community. From humble beginnings he entered a trade and began his working life in earnest. As young men tend to do, he had a night out with his mates but, due to a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, the night changed the course of his life forever. 

After a terrible incident he ended up in hospital for some time, suffering damage to his body and brain from which he would never recover. He quietly settled into his new life living with disabilities and though so much had changed, he still had the love of his family and a community around him for support.

He soon needed assisted accommodation which he settled into once his mum got old and needed care herself. A regular at our Community Service Centre in Bondi, he is known as a quirky soul, with a heart full of warmth and care and a head full of the corniest jokes and hilarious, if not repetitive, narratives. He remembers names and always moves towards love and care, often leaving little hand-written notes that warm the heart. He is a living reminder of our common need for care and connection, a place where we are known and can be known. He will always greet you with a smile and ask how you and your family are. 

Then, almost overnight, he was transferred to new accommodation on the other side of Sydney with little to no warning. Even though this new place had all the same support he needed to live, the staff soon found him becoming weaker and weaker. They encouraged him to take walks, but that only made him worse.

In this new community people were afraid of him. When he walked up to them to chat, they would hurry away and shield their children from him. Teenagers began to make fun of him, calling him a “freak”, which made his life more of a misery. One morning he vanished. A few days later he turned up back in Bondi at our chapel, dishevelled but with a big smile on his face. He almost collapsed from dehydration as he had walked the whole way back to his home base.

He was taken to his favourite place to be after the chapel, our Community Service Centre, where the team supported him until he was able to tell them that he wanted to come home. They helped arrange a transfer back to accommodation nearby, where he is now once again surrounded by a community that knows him and holds his story.

Beyond food and shelter we possess a need to be in a place where we are known. Healthy communities hold stories. Within these stories we find a meaning, love and identity that we can all too easily lose when we are away from our community. Loneliness sometimes can be just as much a function of geography as it can be a longing for purpose and connection.

As I was writing this note, he ambled up to me, asking how my wife was, reassuring me that if anything were to happen to her, he would be prepared to marry her. We both smiled and shared a laugh that warmed us up on this first day of Spring that is once again beset by rain. 

Thanks for being a part of our Inner Circle,

Jon

Rev. Jon Owen
CEO & Pastor
Wayside Chapel 

P.S Have you registered for Long Walk Home yet? This is our annual 28km fundraising walk from Parramatta to Kings Cross on Friday 7 October. It’s a very special evening, and I do hope you will walk alongside me, and support people like our Bondi regular who undertook his own long walk home to love and connection.

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