For the first decade of my life, I grew up in Wealdstone, an area of Harrow that has since significantly changed over the years. With some spare time this afternoon, I visited Wealdstone and sat on a public bench opposite the Holy Trinity Church, a building I was always intrigued by when I was a young boy.
As I sat, alone on the bench with a hot coffee in my hand, keeping my backpack close next to me, I recollected the times growing up in the area, the trip to the local bakery or the bank or the shoe shop with my mum and brother. I remembered going to the park, accompanied by my dad who taught my brother and I how to ride a bike.
As I continued to sit this afternoon, on World Mental Health Day, I observed the local community, some on their way back home from a long day at work, mothers and their children walking home from their after-school activities, others humming while cycling, or those walking while engrossed in their phone screens.
I also witnessed young men subtly exchanging what looked like small brown packets and bank notes. I noticed other young men, sipping on a can of beer concealed by a plastic bag. I saw elderly men, some sitting alone, appearing so lonely, talking to themselves. I saw other elderly men in groups, prising open a bottle of whisky and twisting open a bottle of water to dilute the whisky (thereby making the drink last that much longer).
Witnessing all this loneliness, this lack of purpose, this need to numb their pain through alcohol or drugs of some sort, made me feel very sad. In some ways, I wanted to help them out of their suffering and in other ways, I wanted to just let them be.
Looking closer, I noticed something beyond the sadness, beyond the loneliness, beyond the pain. I noticed that majestic spirit, trapped, concealed, enslaved, but still there. It was present in the everlasting beyond the transient. It came through in the way the man sitting alone tapped his legs on the paving on the ground. It showed clearly in the way the group of men engaged with each other. It was apparent through the interactions, through the gestures, through the eyes, through each breath.
It’s in that moment that I felt a sense of calm, a sense that the town I grew up in, has perhaps not degraded in the way I first thought, as it still houses the very spirit that has the potential to uplift the entire community. In that moment, I witnessed hope, joy, wisdom and a sense of purpose, eagerly seeking to emerge.