AS PRESIDENT-ELECT of the Divided States makes it to the cover of Time magazine as Person of the Year (they mean “man”, obviously, although they changed to “person” in 1999 — Angela Merkel was their non-man in 2015, and Queen Elizabeth II in, um, 1952), you might think Time, like much of America, has lost its mind.
Then you remember how it nominated Hitler once and Stalin twice, and relax. It’s not an endorsement. Oh wait. Did I say relax?
Let us look for humanity instead to a Muslim restaurant called Shish, in a grimy suburb of southeast London, in a note, written in biro and stuck to the window.
“No one eats alone on a Christmas Day!” it reads. “Free of charge! We are here to sit with you. Three course meal for the homeless and elderly 12pm-6pm.”
Turkish dip, soup, chicken or veg casserole, rice pudding. Local people, seeing the note, posted it on Facebook, to pass the word.
Which is how it ended up in the Washington Post.
You could take the nihilist view — entirely plausible, after the year we’ve had — and gasp in wonder that a simple gesture of solidarity with the homeless and lonely on a significant day has gone international.
How we are now so atomised that an act of kindness becomes headline news.
Or we could interpret it as a nudge.
“It’s not about religion, language, or culture,” the manager told CNN.
“It’s about community.”
What makes this small act of humanity so powerful is that it challenges the hate unleashed in 2016.
While Brexit and Trump have spawned waves of hate crime, much of it aimed at ordinary Muslims, these London Muslims have responded by opening their door and their hearts to the most dehumanised of all — the invisibles in their sleeping bags, sitting on cold winter concrete.
The forgotten elderly.
The nudge that caused the owner to host those who might otherwise eat alone, or not eat at all, on Christmas Day happened when an old lady came into the restaurant, asking for help to close a window in her home.
While thanking the restaurant chaps for their help, she mentioned that she’d be alone at Christmas.
The owner was reminded of his mother in Turkey. It sparked his humanity.
It would be bloody marvellous, as madmen take over the world, if this humanity could keep sparking.
All the spark needs to ignite a full blown bonfire of humanity is empathy. We are, to use that old mushroom analogy, kept in the dark and fed shit, so that we remain suspicious and divided.
This tactic has been working brilliantly lately — let’s reclaim our common humanity by connecting with others who are “other”.