A COUPLE of weeks ago I attended a conference on the New Script and there I heard our local poet, Cathy Carson, recite her heart-rending poem, Praying.

Recently a friend told me that Cathy was performing a semi-autobiographical one-woman show in the jewel of  North Belfast, the Duncairn Arts Centre. Without further ado I rang the Duncairn to book a ticket, as this was a show not to be missed. The receptionist informed me that there were four tickets left. But there's more – the show was not a cash ticket sale, rather Cathy had asked for a donation to a charity who provide warm clothing for those less fortunate who have no other place to stay than on the street. Cathy was already on top of my Authentic People tree but now she’s even higher. 

On Friday I duly headed to the Duncairn and, as always, I was blown away by the Duncairn’s welcoming hospitality. For anyone who has never been, this is a must-visit venue. The old abandoned church has a new heart, a kind heart that offers all sorts of activities on the ground floor rooms which also host a cafe whose food has to be tasted to be believed.

Upstairs is the theatre-cum-concert hall that can hold up to 200 patrons. The soundproofing is so good that you can hear yourself think. The stage was set – it was draped in black and the lights were low and soft. I sat at the back and was able to take in all of what was going on. 

The show was in two halves and in part one Cathy’s very presence could be felt as she stepped on to the stage. You could hear a pin drop as she began to tell the story of Danielle, a name she chose for herself when she lived on the streets. She spoke of the dysfunctional home that she was brought up in with a violent alcoholic father and how she directed his twisted anger at those who loved her as she was unable to feel deserving of love. 

She laid out her story age by age and gave vivid descriptions of the horrors she endured. The violence within the home became so bad that her father punctured a hole in her body with a poker. It was at this point that she left home and found herself with nowhere to go but the streets. She described with clarity what it was like for someone to take shelter on the street – the cold, wet, windy days and nights when you almost froze as you slept in doorways.

She told of others in the streets and the role that they played as they attempted to guide and advise her. Advice such as 'Here’s a dozen baby's nappy pins to pin your garments together so that no-one can grope you as you sleep on the street.' 

Part two began with the hope that her aunt Sally brought into her life when she came across her niece on the streets. Cathy described how her aunt got her into a women’s refuge and how from there she found herself in a run-down mouldy flat where she had just a mattress on the floor and a sheet for a curtain; this was to be her home.

She got a job as a carer in an old people’s residential home and she told of the love that she experienced from this older group and how one man in particular, Owen, took an interest in her and believed that she would be destined for something more, Owen had a pet name for her – he called her Becoming Marvellous. He kept a little black notebook with Marvellous written across the top of the page and he made out an education plan for her. A plan, may I add, that she followed and a plan that took her to university where she received a first-class honours degree.

The little girl who was told that she was a nobody, who was told that she would never be anybody, finally took to the stage of the university to receive her much-deserved degree in nursing. 

Today Cathy is one of our frontier nurses who is always there for others, with loving kindness and, above all, compassion.