Yesterday I sat in the sunshine with friends outside a hospital block. One of then, a young man recovering from horrific leg injuries, is almost ready to be discharged though he still needs a good deal of treatment and intensive physiotherapy. He is also waiting for a ticket that will enable him to travel to be reunited with his brother. He is excited at the prospect.
He is also close to despair. What the psalmist said of his people is true of my friend: 'their spirits languished within them.' (Ps 107:5). My friend has a languishing spirit.
I first met him on dank afternoon in November outside the library. He was cold and haunted by fear. He had only recently arrived and had not yet found a permanent shelter. He was desperate to get to his brother. But he was stuck. He had no idea how he could manage it and was afraid of trapped in this in-between place forever.
Eventually he got a shelter near the library and as winter set in, he hunkered down. Then early in the new year, something happened that left him with an aggressive infection that threatened to cost him his left leg. Months of treatment followed in hospitals where he didn't speak the language or fully understand what was going on.
He was haunted by a new fear: would he ever walk again without assistance? At 19 with dreams of riding a motorcycle and being someone, he was facing a life of disability. And he was alone. We visited him as often as we could but that did not really touch his sense of isolation. Every time I see him I catch that haunted, fearful look behind his greeting and his hug and his smile and his welcome.
And now he waits for a ticket.
This young Afghan man, whose family is scattered by the war in his land across at least three countries, whose father died in service of the Nato forces, waits for a ticket. He is on the final agonizing stretch of his journey. Fit enough to be discharged from hospital, he received word from the UK home office that his Dublin 3 claim for reunification with his brother has been accepted on 8 August.
And here at the end of September he is waiting for a ticket.
Maybe it will come next week after visits to the Prefects in both Calais and Arras.
And so we leave him, urging him to be patient, and as we round the corner into the welter of tents and shelters and people, a young man with the same haunted look as my friends stops us. He's 16 and has a brother in London and no other family in the world (as far as we can ascertain). Can we help him? And so it begins again. Taking details, making calls. urging patience and offering support.
How long? How long O Lord before their cries - and our cries - reach your ears and you deliver them (and us) from this agony of inertia?