What I Learned from Pete’s Ball of Wool
It was a balmy night in Sydney last Thursday. A good setting to catch up with a friend for dinner and then enjoy a leisurely stroll back to my hotel.
Before you become too concerned and turn off, bare with me as no, this is not my audition for Mills and Boon, nor a story of love and treasured moments….
Or is it….?
This story is about connecting with people living a life without the need for much of the ‘things’ that many of us consider as a sign of success in life. This is also a story of sharing an experience and conversation with a people who, while living a very basic existence in respect of materials, find their wealth in connection and community.
While we can become easily sucked into the commercial offerings that our very capitalist society offers and constantly dangles in front of us, when we can resist this seduction, and strip away our need to conform with societies temptations for wealth and materialism, we can learn so much about what is at the heart of what is important to all humans; meaning and purpose.
Last Thursday night while walking home after dinner, James and I came across the Exodus Foundation Night Van, which;
Each night, this specially-equipped van takes hot food prepared at Loaves and Fishes to Yurong Parkway, Woolloomooloo, near St Mary’s Cathedral.
This service provides a hot dinner to the poor and homeless serving between 150 and 200 people each day, between 7:30 and 8:30pm.
We’d never before had the privilege of spending time meeting with people at ‘the coalface’ like we did last Thursday night. This is a place where life is very different to what I experience daily.
James and I shared in some special conversations as people came and went, enjoying a hearty meal along the way. We were joined in conversation with two particularly special people, Neil and Pete.
Neil is a passionate Case Manager who, while having a story of his own to share about living on the streets, plays a great role of connecting people with all of the services that help them move from being homeless to ‘homed’. Neil was great in conversation and you could tell that his vocation of supporting others suits him just fine. Much better it would seem, than the very miserable life he described when he was a very senior corporate manager with a large corporation.
It was Pete though who really intrigued me.
Pete described that he is currently ‘couch surfing’ and hoped to soon be accepted into public housing, something that he was very proud of. We were chatting for about 5 minutes when Pete did something that caught me by surprise, he pulled out a ball of yellow wool and started knitting what he told me was a child’s blanket. Pete was going ‘hammer and tong’ with this knitting, a skill he told me that his Grandmother shared with him about 10 years ago. He was very good.
I asked who the blanket was for and he told me that he knits for the kids in the Children’s Hospital who’s life was not as good as his. What a humble man.
He told me that he gets the wool from one of two places; either from the Hospital who give him balls in exchange for the blankets or; he buys them from a shop with the money he earns from his part-time job at a fast food chain. He was very proud of his blankets and told me that he does at least five a week and that it was important to him to not get behind on this schedule as people needed the blankets, especially at this time of year as winter nears.
Now for my honesty and learning moment…..
I confess that during my discussion with Pete that I felt for my wallet a few times. I knew that I had some cash in it and I thought on more than one occasion of giving Pete some money and suggesting that he go and purchase some more wool.
What was I thinking? How selfish of me? What would giving money to Pete have meant to him? Pete seems to have things sorted when it comes to getting his wool and I suspect that paradoxically, some stranger, a person who he’d met for around 10 minutes, offering money may not add to Pete’s purpose and meaning. Instead I suspect it could actually detract from it by making him feel like a person in need. I think the only thing that Pete was seeking was connection and conversation, not me feeling pity on him by providing money. Maybe any spare money is better given to support the amazing work of the Exodus Foundation!
Sad isn’t it, how I easily fall into the trap of thinking money (or material items) are what people seek, when connection and conversation are so much more valuable. This is something that I know that I am easily seduced by.
You too might be easily fooled into thinking that people who are without a home don’t enjoy their life and don’t have good times, or purpose and meaning in life. In fact, I wonder if some people in this situation may have more purpose and meaning than anyone with wealth and possessions?
I understand that life is not rosie for many who live on the street, and my intention is not to galmourise such a life, nor pretend that a one hour experience anywhere near accurately reflects the way that most people live. I mean what about the thousands of people who weren’t there to receive a meal?
But it did help me to understand, in a very small way, how a life without many possessions, without all of the riches that many of us are accustomed to, may still allow people to have purpose and meaning. Perhaps people like Pete, much more than many people who find great wealth and happiness with materials, are living the type of ‘rich’ life that so many desire.
Admittedly, people who are homeless are not a group of people that I am used to sharing time with but I do hope that might change in some way. Perhaps this is a way that I can continue to find more meaning and purpose in my life?
Not everyone is going to be fortunate enough to experience what James and I did last Thursday, but if you are looking for a way to support and contribute to those people without a home, you can donate at;
I’m so grateful for what I learned from Pete’s ball of wool.