Today I was talking to a lovely elderly man, originally from Hong Kong, who always seemed to me to be a bit depressed. He told me that he had been struggling for quite some time and found life to be really difficult and challenging lately, especially during and after the lockdowns of the past two years. He approached me asking if we had any plans to open up on Thursdays soon. I told him we have been contemplating it but that we also want to be smart with our resources, not opening for the sake of it, especially given that the Anglicans have been providing meals on Thursdays. I said that I wanted to have conversations with other groups about their plans for the future and work in with what is already being offered by other churches and agencies. 

One thing he said struck me. He said that the lunches that the Salvos offered during the lockdown was a lifeline for him, and that without them he didn’t think he would be here. “I get so lonely” he said, “I miss being able to talk to people, especially when I sit down to have a meal.” I thought about that. It is something I take for granted at times, being able to sit down with my family at the end of the day and chat over a meal. In fact it is way too easy to take that kind of thing as granted. For those who found their way through the lockdowns with their mental health relatively intact it is perhaps easy to forget those who suffered during the tightening and suffocating loneliness of lockdown life. 

But my friend also said something else that surprised me. Although I’m paraphrasing, he pointed to a study that was done and that he had read, that when people have certain supports taken away (I forget which supports he mentioned), they find new ways to manage. In other words, people find new ways of coping that they would never have thought of otherwise, and these become new coping skills that can be incorporated into their everyday lives (I’m taking some liberties with this paraphrase, but it was to this effect). That certainly chimes with my experience in Olive Way. Our guests have returned with a greater sense of resilience, but also a greater appreciation for what they have. Another of our guests thanks me profusely each time she comes in now, saying that she is so grateful for the food and meals that we provide, which she never did before. She has even taking to bringing in gifts for us and the volunteers. 

For myself, after a week of illness (not COVID) and leave, I also have returned with a renewed sense of appreciation for our little endeavour in Olive Way; for the guests, for the staff, and the volunteers. But for my friend I am reminded that not all of us can simply take time out like that, and that the empty spot at his table is a reminder of his loneliness and isolation. We can never fill the space, but we can certainly be part of the solution, no matter how small a part we play.

      Peter Blair, Olive Way Pastor