Monday 18 July 2016

Deke Sharon, Queen Street and a young man called Michael...

What a week!  

I've been absolutely blessed to be in Auckland watching my daughter compete in an International Barbershop Quartet / Chorus competition.  That in itself was divine!

As part of that incredible experience, I got to watch an incredible leader in action.  A guy by the name of Deke Sharon - the musical genius behind the "Pitch Perfect" movies. He totally blew me away with his commitment and passion to music AND people.  Watching him coach, lead, encourage and inspire a massive 'all-comers' choir was one of the highlights of the week.   The way he talked, laughed, humoured, encouraged and cajoled magnificence out of this group was amazing to watch - specially for me, as a coach.  ;-)

And he talked to the audience the same way.  He reminded us all of the power of music, acapella music especially, to bring people together.  That acapella music especially has the power to remove all status, judgement, division. When we sing together, we ARE all one. One voice, one people.  We are all the same.

But this post isn't about my experience with Deke Sharon. He is not the man in the title of this post. 

This post is about what happened AFTER that.....   And perhaps because of that.....

On the way home from the first day of the barbershop festival, walking down Queen Street, I encountered a homeless man. To most of us, "the homeless" are invisible, bludgers, wanting a hand-out, victims, it's their own fault. We see them as hopeless, beyond help, lost. 

This is SOOOO not true.

WE need to see past that story, past that bullshit, past the illusion / delusion that society has spoon-fed us and has convinced us is true. 

"The homeless" are still people.  Sure, they may be different from you, from me.  But they are STILL people.  And just like you and me, all they want is to be seen, to be heard, to be listened to, to be treated like human beings.  Like people.   Just like you and me. 

How do I know this??? Cos a young man called Michael told me so.  And who's Michael?  An interesting young man I met on the streets of Auckland last week. 

On my way to the barbershop competition on a chilly winter's morning last week, I'd smiled at Michael as he sat on the footpath, and he'd called out a warm and cheery "good morning". I responded with a 'good morning' back - as you do, and he smiled and wished me a good day..  Just like anyone else would've done.  Just like you or me.  

That evening on my way back from an incredible day, including the mind-blowing workshop with Deke Sharon and his reminder of the power of music to bring us together as human beings IN HARMONY, I saw Michael again. He was sitting on the sidewalk, now wrapped in a blanket. The sun had set and it was starting to get cold... 

I stopped to ask him how his day had been and we chatted for a bit. As you do when you meet an acquaintance on the street...  After a few minutes, I became aware of how uncomfortable I felt talking 'down' to him, so I squatted down beside him and we carried on talking... After a little while, that became uncomfortable, so I sat down beside him. On the footpath. And listened as he told me about his day, his life on the street. 

He wasn't looking for sympathy, for money, for a hand-out.  He was simply looking for connection.  Wanting someone to simply "see" him as a person.  Without judgement, without trying to 'fix him' or his situation.  Just to listen, to make eye-contact, to connect and talk with him like a human being. 

We talked for ages. It turned out Michael is from Christchurch too. So we talked about the earthquakes, the rebuild, familiar places now lost.  Within minutes, we'd found our "commonality".  It hadn't taken long, or taken much effort at all on my part. It had just required that I look past his current situation, and see him as a person. As a human being. As a man whose current 'address' is different to mine.   To simply give him my time, my attention, my humanity.  And to notice and acknowledge his. 

I didn't quite understand all the events that had lead to Michael being on the street, but they didn't matter really.  Somewhere along the way, our society had let this young man down, and his current situation made it hard for him to 'get back up', to find work, to find somewhere to live.  But he was still trying.  And he was still hopeful. 

I asked him what his dream job was. Without hesitation, and with a sparkle in his eyes, he told me he wanted to be a sound engineer. We talked about his 'why'  (I'm a coach, remember?), and I asked him what was one thing that he could do towards that while he worked towards changing his current situation.....  He came up with FOUR things!  

He just needed someone to listen, to believe in him, to "sing his song back to him when he forgot it".  To remind him that he is a PERSON. And to treat him like one.  

He told me that I was the first person all day to stop and sit and talk with him.  How awful!!  As someone who has recently become an "empty-nester", I could TOTALLY relate to Michael's situation, and how isolating and lonely that must be.  He's really not so different from me. Or probably you, either.

I wanted to buy him a hot, nourishing meal, so I told him my intention, and asked him what he would like, and then went off down the road to get it for him. While I was waiting for his takeaway meal to be ready, I was thinking about the things we'd talked about, about how homeless people are so often ignored and treated as 'invisible', and the thought occurred to me that I'd given him my time, but I still felt a sense of disconnection.  There was still a 'safety-barrier' up (from my end).  

I asked myself, what was the one thing I could give him (apart from my time and a hot meal) to really connect.  And it hit me like a flash of lightening. SO simple, and something we do every day when we meet or are introduced to someone new....

We give them our name.  At that moment, Michael came into the take-away. The people in there were a little apprehensive on seeing him. I just smiled at everyone and said "it's alright.  He's with me".  The whole room relaxed. 

Then I reached out my hand and shook his hand and simply said  "I'm Sally. I haven't introduced myself to you yet".    He beamed and responded "Hi Sally, I'm Michael".  Just like you or I would do when we meet someone new. 

And that was that.  

Michael's meal was ready, and he went off to find a place to settle in for the night, and I went off to catch my bus.  

Sure, this encounter had made me late home.   But it had been SUCH an incredible experience to connect with this young man, to hear his story, to "see" him as a human being, to connect with him and help him remember he too is a human being.  Just like you.  Just like me.  

It's just that the eyes I saw him with that day were open and kind. Perhaps because of the compassion that Deke Sharon's session had stirred in my heart.  Who knows. 

I like word-plays and puns and such... Thinking about this encounter with Michael and our society's perception and treatment of 'the homeless',  it occurred to me that there's only ONE letter difference between  'HOMELESS'  =>  'HOPELESS'. 

It struck me that it's up to US ALL to ensure that our 'homeless' don't become 'hope-less'. 
We ALL have a part to play in that.  And all we have to do is give gift them our time, our attention, our humanity.  Even a smile and a simple hello will do.  Think about how often that changes your day.... When someone gives you a smile and a 'hello'.  And you don't even live on the street! 

Give  =>  gift.      It makes such a HUGE difference when you change "give"  to "gift". 

And what is it that music gifts us??    
It gifts us ourselves.  It gifts us connection, community, a sense of belonging and 'fitting in', a sense of harmony in our world, and the world around us.

It gifts us hope.  And without that, we have nothing. 

Don't be the voice of reason....  Be the voice of hope.  Be the voice of humanity. 
THAT's what we need more than anything right now. Especially people like Michael.


  1. proud of you in your authenticity....yes we just need to commune....keep going !!!!!! for you are loved.....and love to see that young man in a sound studio doing his thing.....what can we do about that?

  2. Join the Sallies, Sally. I'd love to see you in a uniform ;-)

  3. wow Sally, beautiful perspective as always, so glad our paths crossed.x

  4. Had a recent experience similar, only didn't sit and chat, just got an extra burger at burger king and a hot drink for a young man, whose hand as soo cold when i introduced myself and asked his nme. I went away wishing i had stopped and chatted for just a little while. i recently told this story to a young lady I know, who told me she had been homeless, and that yes she would have loved to hve just had people say hello, notice her,maybe be interested in her as a person. I left feel the young man feeling so sad and powerless. Your story reminds me to take these chances more often as they are rich with possibilities. Bless you Sal, wonderful soul.