Today I walked past a man panhandling outside Gelsons on the way to buy some groceries. He was a black man in maybe his 70's with no teeth. He sat in a chair clutching walker and asked me for change on my way out. I felt that impulse inside me to rush past and not make eye contact. I wish I could say I came into full presence in that moment but I only came half way.. offering that placating statement that a lot of us say when faced with someone asking for money, be it a homeless person or green peace, "I'll see what I have on the way out." Of course, this is a bullshit answer designed to make you not look like a bad person, as you rush past the hardship of another human being. I mean, who doesn't almost ALWAYS have at least a small handful of change kicking around in the bottom of your purse or in your pocket?? What is this tendency to hold back, even when you have more than enough? Surely, it isn't about the money. Closer to the truth is that the suffering of others less fortunate than us can be painful to observe. Rather than get present and risk bursting our happy little privilege bubble, even those of us who call ourselves "conscious" or "liberal", put our blinders on. We look away.
After buying my groceries, I headed to the exit. I always refuse a bag, so I had my 5 things balanced somewhat precariously in my hands. I walked toward the elderly man sitting in the sunshine, grasping his walker and looking hopeful. Inside my head I heard, "you can use the excuse that your arms are full and that you used a credit card instead of cash to rush past without engaging." I even felt my body language start to change, miming that my burden was far more likely to fall than it actually was. Yikes! Are you kidding me?? Where does this cowardly and unsympathetic voice and behavior come from? Instead of listening to that voice that I would NEVER actually use out loud, I paused. I PAUSED. I took a breath. In that moment my full presence replaced that silly small voice that almost lived through me. I looked at the little old man seated with a disposable pepsi cup in one hand and saw kind eyes shining back at me. We chatted as I rebalanced my stuff onto one arm and fished around in my purse for change. He mentioned the heat and all I could do was agree, knowing that he had no air conditioning to retreat into. I felt what probably amounted to a couple pennies and a quarter and just couldn't bring myself to let that be the extent of my contribution. I looked into my purse and saw a $20 bill that had been kicking around for over a week with barely a notice by me. Perhaps partially to spite that voice that would have me make some excuse, rather than give the gift of my presence and some much needed cash, I pulled that $20 out and put it into his cup. Twenty dollars, an amount that was common enough to me that it was crumpled up in the bottom of my purse, caused his eyes to go wide. How disparate are our experiences that the same number can cause such different reactions? The answer to that is, a gap as wide as the grand canyon. Obviously homeless people need more than small money contributions, and the fact that I gave him $20 does not make me a hero. What I am stoked on is that I was able to freakin PAUSE and listen to a different part of myself than that scared little miserly voice that can so easily run the show. I am not always successful in this, I wish I was. So much of our experience in life, and the effect we have on others, is based on our ability to know what is running us and CHOOSE from a space of full awareness. In this one moment, I had won control over my life and who I am in the world... which is no small thing.
As I walked away I told the man with a toothless smile and a big heart that I hoped he would go inside and buy himself a treat. He seemed pleased with that idea. As I drove away I imagined him enjoying a (perhaps rare) moment of pure pleasure as he dug into a decadent treat, the kind he never got for himself... and for at least that one moment, having not a care in the world.
Peace and blessings, my fine people!