A Different Escape

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy”
 
– Anne Frank
 
Have you ever wanted to escape?
 
Just keep driving? Keep running? Get away from the things in life that are just too difficult to face?
 
Antanas does.
 
He’s been homeless for 5 months, sleeping on the streets of Belfast.
 
Amongst the hustle and bustle of city centre life, Antanas sat on a busy street corner, scribbling away with a colouring pencil on a notepad.
 
I was curious.
 
As we sat down and offered him a cup of tea, we asked about his story.
 
“I came to Belfast three years ago from Lithunia. I worked in the fishing industry, but I wasn’t happy. Before long I got kicked out and left without a job. I came to Belfast to try and earn some money, and get my life back.
 
But at the moment, this is the only way I’ve been able to get money. By begging on the streets.
 
I try to save whatever I get – but you never know what the next day is going to hold. I get so hungry and cold, so I try to take care of myself in order to survive. But I never have enough to leave the streets for good.
 
Life on the street is really not nice. There is so much drink and drugs – it can be really scary out here.
 
One morning I woke up and strangers were just searching through my stuff. I said: “What are you doing? It’s not yours!” Then they started to attack me, and stole everything I had in my bag. It was horrible.
 
But then some people can really surprise you. A few days ago a random lady brought me to a restaurant and bought me a full breakfast. I really appreciated that.  But I don’t ask for that nor expect that from people passing by – I just want people to say hello.
 
When you spend your days sitting on the street, you feel like an outcast. Nobody sees you.
 
Nobody cares.
 
Sometimes you sit all day and just get handed a sandwich from someone passing by. Usually people just walk past without a word. No one has the time to even acknowledge that you’re there”.
 
It’s the line we hear time and time again.
 
One of the most disheartening things about living on the streets isn’t the lack of warmth or food, it’s the loneliness.
 
If I had a pound for every time someone living on the streets has confessed that, I would sadly be a very wealthy woman.
 
 So we asked him, “do you feel you have you been ignored a lot today?”
 
He answered with a sigh.
 
“There are good days and bad days. Today is a good day. You have stopped and said hello to me.
 
Days on the street are long and hard. But I have a way to escape”.
 
He pointed at the colourful notepad sitting on his lap.
 
“Art helps me get away from it all. I draw so I don’t have to think about the pain. The colours, the shapes - they are the only form of beauty I get to see. And what makes it even more special is that I get to create them.
 
It’s a way to escape this life without depending on drugs to numb the pain. It helps me survive”.
 
There is something so incredibly inspiring about hearing how someone chooses to combat their pain by creating beauty from it.
 
With every drawn line, Antanas chooses to tackle his pain through creating something beautiful. With every shape, Antanas chooses to focus on something that brings him joy, rather than dwell on the fear he feels everyday.
 
With every picture, Antanas chooses hope instead of despair.
 
And that, given the circumstances he faces, is truly inspiring.
 
We thanked him for showing us his beautiful gift, and encouraged him to keep drawing, continue creating, and hold onto the hope that no matter how dark and difficult life gets, there is still beauty to be sought in this world.
 
Escape the pain.
 
Choose to see the beauty.
 
Who are you going to inspire today to do the same?
 
 
- Judy Shaw
 

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