Dear Inner Circle,

“When you’re wearing a mask, don’t spit!” This was a piece of wisdom given to me today by a wise old fella who I think learned his lesson the hard way.

Yesterday I was taken to lunch. I didn’t have time for a socialising lunch, and worse, I wasn’t in the mood when juggling some heavy burdens that demanded my attention. So reluctantly, with a sense of suffering I met up for lunch. I didn’t choose the cafe and in the first few moments, felt some regret that the bill for lunch would not be cheap. A bit like waking from a deep sleep, I realised that the purpose of the lunch was to tell me about his passion for life now that he had secured stable housing and paid work for the first time in years. His joy was so full-on and I realised that he only wished to express his absolute thanks for the staff and volunteers at Wayside who were part of his story. Lunch ended and my once homeless friend paid the bill. “I can’t hug you Jon because of this bloody virus, but I can pay this bill and wish I could do more.” I remembered what Wayside is about. I realised that I’d forgotten all the “important things” that had burdened me before the lunch began, and I felt much lighter after it.

Hope was born in me at the start of this COVID crisis, when I began seeing our politicians cast aside their divisions to work together for the sake of the collective health and people of Australia. With a National Cabinet and other signs of leaders working together across the various states and parties, I saw true collaboration for the greater good and hope continued to grow, for me anyway. Lately I’ve glimpsed a return to the bullying tactics of wasting time and looking to blame. Let’s recognise that compared to the rest of the world we have done an outstanding job so far by working together through extremely difficult circumstances. I urge our politicians and some of the media, for whom ideology trumps facts and the best interest of the people of this country – let’s not return to ‘old normal’ as we are all so much better than that.

Plagues have been a feature of our history forever. When the Black Plague was at its height in 1349, the priests went out on the streets and preached that it was a sign of God’s anger against sin. The message worked until the priests and even the bishops began to die in great numbers. The more you study history, the more you discover side notes that plagues had visited and revisited constantly. The year before the great fire of London, a plague took out a third of the population. The Black Plague came to Sydney in 1900 and by then we understood that it spread from fleas on rats. Sydney Council offered threepence per dead rat, but no headway was made until they offered sixpence per dead rat. You can find photos of piles of dead rats on Sydney’s streets higher than the heads of the men who were making sixpence per rodent. Talk to anyone in their eighties about the fear that polio struck into the hearts of Australian families. Talk to anyone in their seventies about the yearly “skin test” (a euphemism for whopping great needle) administered to every kid, every year, in every Australian school looking for kids who’d been exposed to tuberculosis. This country had a 64% casualty rate in the First World War – think about that for a moment. Our whole country was in trauma. The war took about 22 million lives in total and then the Spanish Flu took another 55 million lives. We were still only making fair progress with the black death in Sydney when the Spanish Flu hit us. In our capital cities, we wore masks. A sign in front of a church recently said, “Thou shalt wear a mask” HYGENISIS 20:20.

I won’t pretend the way forward is easy and I won’t say anything clever that minimizes our pain. The health of each other is too important. Some wonder if it is the end of our mission to ‘create community’ but the truth is that we endure whatever we need to endure for the sake of one another. It is sad to sit in our empty cafe at Wayside Chapel devoid of people in the early to late afternoon in dead silence – which was not long ago was the beating heart of our community. I miss the scores of voices and even the raised voices that this space was designed to provide. Yet it gives me comfort to know that our teams are out on the streets armed with care packs, finding people wherever they’ve crashed for the night and doing all we can to offer the comfort of community – with love that for now is on wheels and on foot, instead of in our buildings.

Thanks for being part of our socially distanced, yet connected Inner Circle,

Jon

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