It's rewarding work, turning up at the Mission, serving food to vulnerable adults who don't mind listening to a few minutes of religion in exchange for a sausage roll, a bowl of soup, and some nice people to talk to for an hour or so.
I am full of existential guilt about it, because doing good makes me feel good, but I am reconciled to this since learning (EdX course 'Science of Happiness') that we are genetically programmed this way, and it helps species survival rates. So that's OK then.
It was my turn to give the talk. It's a tough gig. Most of the audience are appreciative, but I am very ambivalent about doing it. Anyway, I said I would, so I did.
Unfortunately, I spoke without notes, and close to the beginning of my 'put your trust not in men' homily, I accidentally called the President-Elect of the United States of America a narcissistic sociopath.
Michael got up and quietly informed me that if I was going to talk about Trump he was leaving. I kinda got the hint, and also the strong feeling that calling ANYONE a narcissistic sociopath wasn't exactly Christlike, so I rowed back and galloped to the finish, sitting down absolutely determined never, ever, to do the talk again.
Michael hadn't left, but I could see he was upset so I went over to him and let him tell me what a hypocrite I am ( I am, I am, it's true.) and then to give me his reasons for supporting Trump. I listened and I listened good.
Trump offers hope to people like him. Michael feels his voice is finally being heard. After I sincerely apologised for upsetting him, we had a real conversation. At the end of it I was both enlightened and chastened.
Michael was given up for adoption at birth, but his mother changed her mind, and struggled on for two years before giving him up for good. A string of foster homes followed, then a boarding school. Then prison …
Michael, in his forties, is good-looking, and intelligent. As his story unfolded I offer up absolute respect for him: for having a completely shit life and not being totally crushed by it.
Yes, Michael gets that mysogyny and the racism don't look good, but he believes that's media hype, ” The media lies. He's a good man with a family who wants to change the way the world is run … ”
Michael is sitting in a room with some very unhappy people with a food voucher in his hand looking for a job that's being done by someone in China and he wants the world to change in a way that would give him a life more like mine.
I wouldn't vote for Donald Trump in a million years, but after my conversation with Michael, I understand why people did.
I don't think my little homilies ever achieve much, and I sweat blood over them, but today mine achieved something. I made a monumental error of judgement, but as a result, I made a real connection with a young man whose opinions I really needed to hear.