An Anthology that sets out to listen with intent

by Sara Burke

STOP. THINK about the last time you did nothing. Remember the last occasion you shook hands with a homeless person. Remind yourself of a time when life was not so busy. Recall the most recent instance where you had a conversation with a stranger and listened with intent and enjoyed it. Consider an occasion when you had time for an “outsider” who has been left behind by the last decade of plenty. Wasting Time with People is the brainchild of Alice Leahy who pro-vides services for homeless people in Dublin’s city centre. She asked friends, homeless people, writers, well-known Irish people from all walks of life to write about making time for others amidst the pres-sures of modern living. The, result is a patchwork of beautiful memories, of moving tales, of inspiring insights into the rarest commodity of all in our lives today – time to spend with people. It evokes everything from “the art of arsing” to “the art of lis-tening”, from conversations in an old country shop to tears and pre-cious time with people who materi-ally have nothing, to regretting time lost that cannot ever be retrieved. Wasting Time With People has two prevailing theses. The first is clearly articulated by Fr Peter McVerry: “Those ‘at the margins feel pushed aside, treated as second-class citizens (at best), unwelcome guests at the Celtic Tiger party. “The message they receive 24 hours a day, seven days a week is that they are not important enough for this society, wealthy beyond its. dreams of just a decade ago, to solve their. homelessness. Yes they want services, some-where to sleep, something to eat, something to do, but above all they want to feel valued”. Many of these essays, stories and poems are about or by those who struggle to get by on the margins of a rich society. The second theme is the regret felt by people who do not have time. They reminisce about the days when they had such time. But people dead cannot be brought back. Time passed is gone, not to return. The writers underline the irony of us having more and more machines that save us time and the reality that we in fact have less and less time. Yet time does not pass quickly for people who have plenty of it, for people living amidst conflict or famine, or in sickness and hunger, for those on the outside. Increas- • ingly there is “less room for the outsider who holds up a mirror to the underbelly of the Celtic Tiger”. These 74 stories and poems are written by some of our best known authors, journalists and artists: Theo Dorgan, Maeve Binchy, Terry Prone, Conor Brady, Aine Lawlor, Robert Ballagh, Mannix Flynn. There are contributions from well known bishops, judges, shop-keepers, nuns, activists, too many to name but each of whom surprise, challenge and remind the reader that great humanity prevails in Ireland in 2008. But it is the words from unknown nurses, public servants, businessmen and homeless people that make the biggest impact. Their stories and thoughts are the more personal, more provocative, silent gospels of times of sadness and of hope, testimonies of the value of spending time with people. The poet Tony Gill has just 13 words in this powerful tome. “Today I spoke to no one, And nobody spoke to me. Am I dead?” This evocative, rousing collection is a stark reminder that people still live in parks and in the hills, that some people have no one to talk to, while most are too busy to stop and talk, not to mind listen. Perhaps, in the words of contributor Suzanne Power, we should pay heed to Alice Leahy’s quiet revolution, perhaps “it’s time to stop, time to take time”, time to waste time with people. All royalties from this anthology go to Trust, a charity run by Alice Leahy, which pro-vides health and social care for those who are homeless.

Sara Burke is a freelance journalist and social policy analyst. She was an outreach worker with homeless young people in Dublin for five years in the 1990s.

Take Time to Reach Out

BETWEEN its covers parades a spectacular cross-section of Irish life: the thoughts of Louis Copeland rub shoulders with those of homeless men, the work of celebrities like Robert Ballagh, Maeve Binchy and David Norris stand next to the deliberations of a sculptor, the manager of Glasnevin cemetery and a clatter of bish-ops. There are contributions from Supreme Court judges, a civil servant, a dead home-less poet, a young garda recruit, a handful of nurses and even the odd lawyer. But despite their compara-tive wealth or poverty, despite their differing attitudes and levels of personal success, all 74 contributors to Alice Leahy’s new book, Wasting Time with People, have some significant things in common. “I think they’re all people who are making a difference. Some of them aren’t people we hear about, but they’re making a difference in their own way,” says Leahy. And they’re all writing – about the same issue — the: need, in this pressurised society, for each and every one of us to give time to others. . Leahy is the director and co-founder of Trust, a 33-year-old organisation offering services to homeless people. She decided to com-pile and edit the book in a bid to make our time-poor, cash-rich populace more aware , of the importance of being prepared to give more of ourselves. “There’s no time any more. It’s mad and it’s frightening because you wonder where all this rushing around is going to end. Ev-rything is about being tied to time and nobody’s listening to anybody,” she says.

Through the enormously varied contributions from a cross-section of Irish society, the book tries to show why we need to make more space in our lives for other people. The contributions vary widely — the essays, poems, stories and personal recol-lections focus on everything from broadcaster Aine Lawlor’s recollection of the challenges her father faced after a debilitating series of strokes to a morality tale from Maeve Binchy contrasting the differing attitudes to community involve-ment in two households. “It’s not a preachy book, it’s about a philosophy of living and working, really,” says Alice. The authors are all people she knows. “They all just came into my head. Louis Copeland is one of our patrons, I met Maeve Binchy through my husband, a taxi driver, and I bumped into Robert Ballagh at a function.” One of the most memorable contributions is from Tony Gill, a homeless man and well-known poet, he died from his injuries after somebody set him on fire. “After he died, a friend put his poems together. One of them is just three lines lang. It’s called Today, says Leahy, and reads it aloud. “Today I spoke to no one/And no one spoke to me/Am I dead?” Gill’s poem, observes Leahy ruefully, says it all.

Proceeds from the book will go to Trust, a charity providing medical and related services for people who are homeless.

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