I was able to drive about 3 blocks down the road before pulling over. I sat in shocked silence. I was ashamed. I was in the throes of an internal argument about this stranger, this man I did not know, that I had never met. But I felt deep down inside that there was something about this moment, something so important and profound, that to not act upon it would have been personal treason against my soul.
There were many reasons for my attempt to hide my head in the sand that day. I have worked for non profits my entire adult life; homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, even a stint as the director of the Beltrami Humane Society. I have seen the abuse humans perpetuate upon other humans and creatures alike, and some days I am JUST BURNED OUT.
I had just enough money in my checking account that day for gas to get to work for the week.
My mortgage is always a month behind.
Our fridge caught on fire and we are living out of a cooler for the next two weeks.
My Jeep needs repairs, and I have a "willpop" tire on my passenger side.
We still owe on an expensive vet bill from when our precious Dinky Do was struggling with Lyme's disease.
I owe creditors and don't have the wiggle room to even prioritize them at the moment, every dime is spoken for to keep our lights, internet and phone on.
On and on the list goes, I could continue, but I won't. You get the picture. Reasons can always be found for justification.
We have a home. We have a safe place to rest our weary heads. We have each other and our family. We are able to tread water where many others are drowning. We have a new, healthy and beautiful granddaughter. We have small blessings every day, so none of those excuses mean anything. Not a damn thing! When I turned my back on this human being...this man with dreams and pain and joy and jokes and sorrows and a story to tell...I turned my back on my humanity, and I could feel it slipping away with that one, small gesture of contempt.
Redemption can come in different forms for different people, but the most epic of those is the small, random act of kindness. It is an act that has nothing to do with the ego. It is just what it is, an act without reason or expectation of compensation.
So I drove to over to Harmony Coop and bought a cup of dark roast coffee and an organic, roast chicken sandwich. I wanted him to at least have something warm to drink and a healthy meal. As I chose his sandwich, I wondered how long it had been since this man had seen fresh organic greens and tomatoes. It's hard to eat well when you don't have a home or access to a kitchen. The right to healthy, good tasting food is no longer a given when you're desperate just to have a safe place to brave the cold and face another day. You fill your stomach when you have the opportunity, without having a choice as to what really goes into your body.
I put the food in my Jeep and drove back around to that same corner where he had stood 15 minutes ago. But he wasn't there. I was suddenly sure that he had disappeared and I had missed my opportunity to make up for the turning away, MY turning away...from a living being who was hungry and tired and in need of my compassion. I drove around again, and there he was, standing on a corner a few blocks down, right across the street from Paul and Babe, Bemidji's claim to fame.
The weird looking, flannel clad lumberjack and his pet ox is one huge reason so many people grace our fair city every summer, to get their photos taken with the two sub par statues of fictional characters from a children's fable. It is a safe bet that most families on vacation don't notice the homeless, existing right outside of society's peripheral vision, in the shadows of circumstance. And if they do notice, many will simply turn away.
I pulled up to the light and threw my car in park, grabbed the bag and cup and walked quickly over to the man. I held out the bag with a smile and said, "Here, this is for you. The coffee is hot." He smiled at me, took the bag and gave me a big hug. I hugged him right back, and when we pulled apart, he said, "Jesus loves you, man!" I smiled back and said, "He loves you, too..." before turning around to run back to my car. As I got back behind the wheel, the people in the truck in front of me rolled down their window and gave him some money, as if seeing someone else act human had allowed them to free their own inner compassion as well. It made me smile!
As I drove home, I thought how lucky I was that I had been able to give to someone I didn't know, for no reason at all...because the feeling I felt in my blood and bones was one of extreme gratitude and a sense of peace. I cried, because I felt my humanity returning to my soul.
So does this mean giving to others is really just another selfish act of the ego? Because even when you don't receive compensation in kind, the feeling you get from doing so is one of warmth and rightness, and it feels good! I'm not sure, and I guess I don't want to over analyze it because I tend to do that with most things anyway, and this I prefer to leave as is.
I almost did the wrong thing. I almost turned away completely from a situation that had the potential to make me a better, more compassionate creature...which means I almost turned away from my own humanity. But I didn't, and I'm grateful. The Universe gives us many unseen opportunities to do the right and just thing, even if it means some self-sacrifice. Whether we act upon them is all part of our journey towards (or away) from enlightenment.
I hope you have a beautiful rest of your Spring, and remember...whatever you do to bring peace and love to your world will bring peace and love to your spirit as well. It's truly a Win/Wyn (What I Need / What You Need) situation!