“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future”
- Robert Schuller
On a cold, ordinary night on the streets of Belfast, we encountered an extraordinary man called Melakeshy.
He taught us more in one hour about the nature of the homeless life than weeks of online research ever could.
As we sat with two other guys on the streets, giving hats and listening to stories, Melakeshy approached.
“Do you have any change?” He asked us.
We immediately looked up. One of the guys living on the streets looked at him perplexed. “You’re not homeless, I’ve never seen you before around here. And look at your clothes!”
With a clean-shaven face, fresh jeans, and a spotless navy jacket, we were a little sceptical.
“I am homeless! I sleep in Botanic Gardens. I have no home to go to!”
His eyes filled as he turned away. He was adamant he was telling the truth, and we wanted to know more.
We asked him how he managed to look after himself and look the way that he did without having a home. His answer rocked us.
“People never suspect me to be homeless just by looking at me. But I am. You don’t have to look a certain way to be homeless. Just because I sleep rough doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring about my hygiene or how I look. I have a razor that I keep to shave my face. I wash in whatever water I can find at the park. And I try to look after my clothes as carefully as I can, but look – there are holes everywhere”
He opened up his coat to show us what was really inside. True to his word, the other side of his spotless jacket was covered in holes and rips. Then he showed us his shoes – they were completely falling apart.
We had judged him wrongly.
We assumed what a homeless person should look like. We looked at his image and automatically assumed he had a home to go to. We saw his outward appearance, and neglected to find out what was really underneath before making a judgement.
We created a story for him before discovering the truth.
And we assumed wrong.
Melakeshy is 43 and used to be in full time employment before a relationship breakdown sent him into despair, taking everything he had.
He broke down as he told us his story.
“My partner threw me out of the house a couple of months ago. I can’t get a job because I’m homeless, so I can’t get money to help and support my kids. My ex is so ashamed of me so she won’t let me see them. I miss them so much. All I want is just to see them again. Is that too much to ask?”
His back shook as he wept bitterly.
“I’m sick of this life. I’m tired of this. I just want out – but there’s no hope for me”
As heart breaking as his situation was, we told him he couldn’t be further from the truth.
As we stood and spoke words of hope back into Melakeshy’s life, his demeanour began to change. We reassured him that although circumstances may seem bleak today, but they don’t have to stay that way tomorrow.
There is always hope.
Right there, something began to happen to Melakeshy that hadn't happened in months. He started to believe he had a future worth fighting for again.
His sobbing stopped as he lifted his head, and responded to our words in the most extraordinary way.
“What do you see when you look up at the sky?” He asked us as he pointed to the night sky that hung above us. “Nothing but black, right? But let me tell you something – although the sky is black as night now, I know that the sun will rise in the morning. The dark will become light again”
It was our turn to cry.
Martin Luther King Junior once said, “We must accept infinite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”. Some of the most remarkable, life changing stories have come from those who have overcome the darkest, most bleak, and seemingly hopeless situations.
But don’t just take my word for it - Let me name a few you might have heard of.
Abraham Lincoln lost his job and was rejected four times before becoming one of the most inspirational and valued presidents of the United States.
Walt Disney sent several companies into bankruptcy before going on to become one of the greatest studio directors in the world to date.
Thomas Edison was rejected by his School Teachers for being “too stupid to learn anything” and fired from his first two jobs before creating one of the most crucial inventions for our modern day lives, the electrical light bulb.
I could go on.
Why do we love hearing stories like these? Why do we feel a sense of celebration whenever we hear of the triumphs from individuals we have never met? Because transformed lives inspire us. Stories of success despite all obstacles give us hope to fight our own battles. Hope compels us to keep pushing forward.
In every case, these ordinary individuals lived out extraordinary lives because they held onto a hope that no amount of rejection, failure, or disappointment was able to overcome. Hope drove them to achieve unimaginable accomplishments. Hope allowed them to see light beyond the darkness.
Melakeshy held onto that same hope.
In the midst of the most desolate of situations, this man, who had at one stage told us that he wanted to throw in the towel, now stood firm in hope for the future.
An ordinary conversation led to an extraordinary outcome.
I wonder what would have happened if we had allowed our prior judgements of homelessness to stop us from encountering this incredible human.
We would have missed an extraordinary life.
We would have missed an inspirational story.
We would have missed the opportunity to fill someone’s life with hope.
- Judy Shaw