Yesterday afternoon it was back at Town Hill Hospital to drop off yet another batch of clean laundry, and to collect yet another batch of dirty laundry ... now I know about the whole idea of "a housewife's job is never done", but on an intensified scale.
However, as we spend more and more time there, one starts to identify some of the "characters", and one who stood out for me is a dear soul namesd Sipho. Now I don't know what sort of mental problem he has that warrants his stay at Town Hill (and to be quite honest, I'm a bit scared to start analysing different forms of mental illness since I'm convinced there's a category that I fall into myself!), but when I first met him on Wednesday, he was standing at a barred window shouting at one of the nursing staff who was snatching a five-minute breather, swearing like a trooper. She was quite embarrassed at this for my part, probably because I was wearing a clerical collar, but I assured her that I would not fall over for a few expletives, and I'm sure that God wouldn't, either.
But as we unpacked the car, who was standing next to us, but dear Sipho - placid as a lamb. Unsure quite what to do, I handed him a bundle of clean washing to load onto the trolley - and his face shone like a beacon. Granted, he was a bit unsteady on his feet, and his trolley-driving skills leave a great deal to be desired, but clearly this little bit of help he was offering did wonders for his sense of self-worth.
So yesterday, when we arrived to collect our next load, Sipho was in the thick of things, helping us to sort out the clothing from the sheets and other bedding while keeping up a four-lettered running commentary punctuated by "What else can I do, Father", and "Are you okay, Father", and "You must wear gloves, Father - this stuff is f***ing dirty, Father". Sipho is probably old enough to be MY father, but although I am not a Catholic or Anglican priest (Methodist ministers are not normally addressed as "Father", and in fact I prefer "Steven" or "Hey You" rather than "Reverend"), the respect with which Sipho addressed me, amidst the swearing, was quite touching.
As we left the hospital, I was reflecting on this encounter with Sipho, and pondered on the main need that human beings have. It's not food or shelter - it's the need to be needed, to be of use, to make some sort of contribution in life - no matter how small. Hopefully, for a few brief moments, we were able to give Sipho this dignity.
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