There’s a rather salty shepherd’s pie ready for lunch. There’s a pheasant casserole for dinner, and a birthday cake whose decoration is the sole preserve of child 2. The pigs are in their blankets, the red cabbage and apple is ready, there is home made ice cream and home made nougat glace, the turkey is en route and the house is covered in glitter, dried lavender and thread ends. And we have cheese, not that anyone is allowed to actually eat it. Or anything else. At all.
And James is sleeping and sleeping and sleeping. He’s sleeping in a comfortable bed, covered with a feather down duvet, and he can stay there for as long as he needs to gather the spoons he needs for the next two days (and if you don’t know the spoon theory, you’re either lucky enough never to have needed it or have never read this). He’s ok. He’s got me, he’s got the children, he’s got a safe and secure place in which to gather spoons. And we love him. Oh how we love him. And if I could, I would give that space to every single person in the world.
When we went to London, we took a dozen bags of gingerbread stars, tied with burgundy ribbon. I have no idea why, or what I was hoping to achieve. It had something to do with the need to share this space with people who don’t have it. Last time I went to London, I walked down Long Acre at eight o’clock in the morning and counted seven people sleeping in doorways. That’s on one small section of one street. Those doorways are not comfortable beds, and the people were not covered in feather down duvets, and the temperature had gone down to minus nine that night. To bear this, you have to believe that the people who live this way deserve to do so. That they are so different from you and I that they have nothing to do with us – or even that they are, at bottom, out to get us. I fell out of love with Sherlock Holmes when I read the story in which it’s revealed that the upright Victorian gentleman at the centre of the story earns a comfortable living and supports his wife and children on the proceeds of begging on the streets of London. So many Christmas readings and songs exhort us to buy an extra present for a child with nothing, or share our Christmas table with someone who has nowhere else to go, as though inequality only happens at Christmas to effect the moral transformation of capitalists before being retired for business as usual in January.
We gave gingerbread stars to Reyshauna in Pret, who showed the patience of a saint when the children were choosing their snacks. We gave them to the man who was selling the Big Issue outside Foyles, with the money to get lunch to have first. We left three beside the people who were sleeping outside Marks and Spencers on Oxford Street and two on a pile of blankets and sleeping bags on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Earlham Street. We gave one to a man sitting on the corner of Neal Street and Long Acre, with enough money for something but not enough for anything that might truly change whatever the thing is. We gave some to the lovely guard at the station, who opened up the big gate for us so we could all go through together. We offered one to a man on Piccadilly who refused to take it, explaining fiercely that he didn’t know what we’d put in them. And we had a showdown that nearly killed me, because child 3 spotted a group drinking in a secluded corner and I wouldn’t let him go to them, and he simply could not see why not, and neither could I, and so I got snappy and short-tempered and pulled rank. If only everyone who needed help came in fragrant, grateful packages. If only I had answers, so that my pulling rank would change things for the better. Surely God could simply pull rank and give everyone a comfortable bed and a feather down duvet? I’ve always thought that benevolent dictatorship is an underrated system of government.
He tried the whole authoritarian thing over his creation, decided he’d got it a bit wrong, washed it out (saving humans but leaving the unicorns behind, which was a shame) and started again. There was a lot of fire and brimstone, and much smiting both by and against him, until he decided that wasn’t really working either. And then he sent Jesus.
He had to send Jesus, because he’d given us free will, so only by becoming one of us could he know what we were. And he sent Jesus to the last and the least. To the man who yelled abuse at us for trying to poison him; to the drunken men in the alcove. To the former child soldiers in Uganda, now adults, ostracized and brutalized. To the lost and the lonely, whom humanity has failed. And to me, too – not the me wrapped in the feather down duvet while the pheasant casserole tenderizes in a slow oven, but the me who blunders about, looking for answers, lost in the dark.