As this year comes to an end it is important to reflect over what actually happened this past year. It all happened so quickly that I was barely able to catch my breath between last year’s New Year’s and this year’s. So what did happen this year? I mean other than Miley Cyrus breaking up with What’s-his-face and then displaying her emotions on a silver platter where the whole world was able to tear apart her actions. On a sadder note, Nelson Mandela died, but if anything his death allowed us to celebrate all the things he had done for this world. Malala got her book published, a book that I yet have to read. There were many many many many more things that happened in the past 365 days, globally, locally, environmentally, politically and any other way you could think of.
Friends of ours had become parents, others have been married, others bought their first homes, the list is endless. So many happy memories to be have been made and I am so happy having to been able to be a smart part of it. But where there is good, there is bad things too. People having to say goodbye, people moving on, people stopping being friends, people loosing jobs, homes and hope among other things, but that is life. These things happen. Which is why it is so important not to lose yourself in it.
I recently talked to a man. For the sake of this story I will call him Thomas. Thomas comes from a lifetime ago. What he underwent in his life is very different from what I underwent in the same time-span. If you saw him on the street, you would never in a million years guess where he came from and what his story was. I know that, because I did not think that he would tell me the story, he is about to tell me. He looks just like every other person on the street, yet he is carrying a torch with him. He is wearing a thick dark coat, his hands are frozen, but he looks happy. I asked him if he wants some tea, which he declines. He says if he were to drink tea now, he would be up all night. I nod, I understand – I am the same way.
Time shows on his face, although he is only a couple months younger than me. Thomas is a shy guy, but he trusts his instincts, the main reason why he is a survivor, he claims. To me he represents all the things that life is about, the ups and downs, the whys and the whos, the whats and anything in between. He is a very smart person, his motto is learning by doing and in retrospect he wished that someone would have told him, that learning – in school – is an important part of life. One, that he missed and one that he says, he wished he didn’t miss.
He came to Norway with basically nothing. He came with a backpack, no food, no place to stay, didn’t know anyone. He lived in the woods for the majority of the past year. Not only in Norway but also where he originally came from. I am not quite sure how he did come to Norway, but I assume it was either by foot or as a blind passenger in some way, because as he explained thoroughly, he comes from a world of nothing. He speaks English, Greek, Romanian, Spanish, Italian and a thousand variations between them.
We sat down in a room where the heaters were blasting, the sun had gone down hours ago and Thomas feels like talking tonight. He talks about his life. He got married at a very young age, hoping it would have been the “one”. However after a brief romance they parted ways. She wanted an abortion, claiming that she does not have what she would need to be a good mother. He insisting on wanting to raise a child, his child. He was an angry adolescent, always looking for trouble and in trouble he got – a lot. Street fights, thievery, violence, these things were on his agenda, always.
He moved from Greece to Spain to Romania to Italy and to many other countries. How he did that, I do not know and do not ask. But he smiles about it, as if that time was his treasure. He said, he was angry with life but that he enjoyed small parts. Like walking in the rain. I look at him puzzled, thinking that clearly there must be more to life than walking in the rain. It seems as though he read my thoughts and he says, “I had no hope. No place to stay. No family. The rain seemed like a shower that would wash away my worries for a bit.” But when it stopped raining, he would go back to the old ways. The ways he does not like about himself.
That is until one day someone gave him a chance. “I was sitting on the street, begging for money, asking for help, but no one would want to give me that. I was hungry and alone and I knew I did not belong on the street. I knew I did not want this life, but I did not know how to get out of it. And then one day, I was given a chance.” He explains thoroughly how a woman stopped him on the streets and asked him if he could translate from English into Romanian, which he could and then she asked him, if he would be interested in working on a project with her.
He agreed, no questions asked, as long as it kept him off the streets. This is how the red cross project started, giving people a place to stay, so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets. Thomas loves his job, long hours are a given, but it’s good work and he discovered a sense of pride within himself, because he could have messed it up. He could have stolen the money, he could have broken in and he could have done other things as well. He said that it crossed his mind to do that but that he had to resist the temptation. He thought back to the day when he was given a chance and he knew, he did not want to disappoint. This woman knew nothing of him but she expected him to do good and he wanted to life up to that expectation.
Now, if anyone did have a rough year with a big turn around, it probably was Thomas. He said in the past year he changed a lot, because he realized what he wanted in life and that is a fair chance, which is why he is doing his job and might I add a splendid one too. He is helping in small ways, but he does it so effortlessly. We finish our work and leave the office together, entering the cold and dark night. It is especially cold tonight, I noticed a Polish woman standing around the corner, her lips are blue and her hands are frozen, leaving red blisters on her hands. She must have been on the streets for days, not knowing where to go and since our only resort of translation was Google translate, it was hard to explain. Thomas motions her to follow him, he would take her to the shelter.
Thomas smiles at me and wishes me a good night and then he starts singing, not opera singing, but a different kind of singing, one that even if you don’t know the words you understand. It is a love song, a happy one too and I like the sound of it. The cold crisp air fills with the musical notes and as we walk away from each other I hear his voice fading into the pitch black dark.
Thomas was lucky, he knows that, but it’s the kind of luck you hold on to and the one you work for even harder. I am impressed, deeply impressed too and I want to send his story out to the world. Because there is good in the world and we all should hold on to it, we all should strive to do better, because if we don’t, no one will.
With this I wish you all a very happy New Year, hoping that you had a splendid past year and that you will have an even better New Year. And remember, when things seem hopeless, just have a little faith and it will turn around, it always does.