When I was eighteen years old, I lived on a kibbutz in Israel for seven months. One of my favourite aspects of this alternative life was the freedom to walk around in bare feet for a lot of the time I was there.
It was fantastic! There is something so wonderful about simply not wearing anything at all on your feet.
Compare that with not having socks in the middle of Winter, when you truly need them.
I am thankful that this has never been my experience.
But the other day I witnessed something truly extraordinary…
A man was walking along the pavement in a quiet street in London, when he decided to stop to examine his feet. As he leaned on the wall of the bridge that overlooked a railway line, he pulled off his socks, as both were thoroughly spent. Worn out, and without much material left to speak of.
It was a quiet, leafy, suburban road – not the sort of place you would expect to see someone in such a poor state of affairs. The man did not look obviously homeless, with no bags, rucksack or even the seemingly ubiquitous canine companion to help him along the difficult journey he had found himself on.
In fact, it would have been perfectly excusable to have driven past him without even noticing there was a problem, were it not for the fact that he was standing on one leg whilst examining the afore-mentioned feet.
One or two cars did simply drive past, oblivious to the poor man’s podiatry plight in the same way that most of us travel through much of our lives with no idea whatsoever of the suffering of others.
But one car drove past him and for some reason, a few hundred yards up the road, it turned around and came back towards him. The car pulled up alongside the man, who by now, was hobbling along the pavement, having fired the now useless socks and appeared to be deciding whether it was more comfortable to walk with his shoes on or off.
I heard some words spoken and then a hand came out from the open window of the front passenger door.
The hand was holding a pair of socks and the man was clearly extremely grateful for this spontaneous demonstration of charity, or love, or simply spotting a need and responding without any thought; other than to relieve the suffering of this complete stranger.
What does this say about our society today?
Are there more people than ever before since the days of Dickens, without the basic necessities of daily living – so much so that they are now wandering the quiet streets of outer London?
Or are there a few more people who are ready, willing and available to literally give their socks away to a complete stranger, whenever they see a need?
Probably a bit of both.
I hope however, it is more the latter and I also hope I can become more like the person I saw offer a hand the other day.