Posted by Ronan Scully in Features.

On my way home from work a number of years ago, I stopped off in Salthill for petrol. As I got close to the entrance of the shop after filling my car, I noticed a ragged middle aged woman coming towards me rather meekly. She looked me in the eye and said in a low soft tearful voice, “Please, can you help me”.

“Sorry”, I said abruptly as I cut her off, pushing by her dismissively. Once inside, I paid for my petrol and headed back out of the shop hoping that she would not be there. But I wasn’t so lucky. There she was standing silently in the same spot. I raced by pretending not to see her. I got back into my car and drove away as fast as I could. I thought about how nice it would be to get home to a cold beer and the delicious food my wife would have cooked.

That’s when a wave of remorse came over me. I realised how selfish and unloving I had just been. I brushed that woman off with the scorn that often comes easily to those of us who live in comfort. What an unloving, uncaring and insensitive person I was.

I stopped the car and said a prayer of apology. Then I turned the car around, this time hoping and praying that the woman would be still there. Thankfully, she was. I got out of the car and walked to her, seeing the same meekness and despair on her face. This time, she seemed afraid as I approached her, but I put her fear at rest when I apologised for not helping her the first time.

I brought her into a café close by and we had a coffee. I found out she had been made homeless through domestic violence and financial problems. Only for the charities St Vincent de Paul, COPE Galway and Galway Simon Community and some kind priests and nuns she would have been in a worse state, she said. Her life story was harrowing but not too unlike many people’s stories over the past number of years of austerity I kept saying how really sorry I was for not helping her in the first case. I cried my eyes out as I drove home that evening and I can still hear her words in my ears as I left her after our coffee. “God bless you and keep you…” she said.

What type of community do we want to live in?

The meeting with that woman was a blessing. At that time, I thought I was a good and caring person. It made me see how selfish and unloving I really was towards the poor, the homeless, the unloved and the abused and uncared for living on the edges of our society. I have been so lucky in life, yet, on that day, I couldn’t have been bothered to share some of my good things with someone who had nothing.

I thank God each day for that experience. That woman made me realise that we must do all we can to look after one another because that is what life is truly all about. It’s about our relationship with one another. It’s our community and our city, so let’s continue to make it a city of equals as we enter into the Advent and Christmas season.

Thought for the week

As your thought for the week, be mindful of the people in need around you, especially our elderly and those who find themselves in need.