Friday, November 11, 2011
It Takes Two to Feed A Hungry Soul
I wanted to share a story that showed up in my email this morning even though the author is unknown. I hope you enjoy it and in return take something away that will touch your heart. Happy Veteran's Day!
Earlier this week, a friend of mine in Toronto, who I will refer to as "M" wrote about her recent experience on the way to work. "M" has been experimenting with acts of kindness and has been challenging her prior beliefs and attitudes toward it - this experience below provides a glimpse of her transformative inner journey and serves to inspire others as many of us can relate to her inner dialogue. Enjoy:
Any passenger on the subway who caught a glimpse of me may have already thought that I was strange as I was smiling while reading Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground. In particular this one gentleman sitting diagonal from me was staring at me, at the cheese bun on the floor in front of me, and then back at me. “Next stop, St. Patrick Station” – my stop was quickly coming up. I had minutes to either take the cheese bun, which nobody else was claiming (as a passenger probably dropped it by mistake and got off at a previous stop), or leave it there and hope that it didn’t go to waste.
In those few minutes I felt my pride getting in the way. “What would other people on this subway think of me if I took the cheese bun? Would they think that I wanted it for myself? Would they think that I was poor and hungry? Would they think that I’m stealing?”
The ignorant thing to do was say “yes” to any of those self-imposed questions, which would only justify my ego and not put my self in an uncomfortable position. But then I’d get off the subway, walk a block up the street to my office, get settled at my desk, and despite feeling comfortable, warm, and being well-fed myself for the whole day, there would be a weight of guilt and regret weighing on my consciousness.
My thoughts were pushing me towards pride and ignorance when the truth was evident: this missing cheese bun is a gift. For a homeless person who is hungry and cold in this morning’s -25 degree weather. For me to overcome a little bit of ego and pass along so much kindness that has been selflessly given to me. For both the homeless person and me to connect (earlier this week I gave a homeless man a bag of peanuts but I didn’t even make an effort to say hello or connect with him which I felt really bad about). It was clear that the homeless person who would receive this cheese bun needed it just as much as I did.
I remembered Lila Watson’s words: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
Just as the doors opened at my stop I grabbed the cheese bun and exited the subway. It felt awesome and I didn’t care if people were looking or what they thought. Instead of going directly to my office as usual, I walked a few more blocks up to Queen’s Park where I have seen a homeless man sitting outside many times on my walk from the gym to my office. I always wanted to give him something. There he was this morning, wrapped in a sleeping bag, wearing a baseball cap with the word “Jesus” stitched on, and his makeshift cardboard sign propped up behind two Tim Horton’s cups for spare change.
I sat down to his level, smiled, and said good morning. He was receptive and just started talking. His name is Wayne and he’s from the east coast of Canada. He looked clean but very cold as his cheeks and nose were red. When I asked him if he knows about Hope Shelter five minutes away on College Street, he cringed and began to describe the shelter situation to me – how unsanitary they are, how there are so many drug addicts there, and how the beds and services are horrible. Like many homeless people, he prefers being on the street. He has been sober and clean for three years, sits alone on the streets to stay away from the addicts, and goes to a job training agency every afternoon. He is really trying to make a better life for himself and get off the street.
Wayne told me how hundreds of people walk by him every morning without even glancing at him, as if he didn’t exist. He just wants to be acknowledged. He was thankful for the cheese bun that I gave him as he tucked it under his sleeping bag for later.
I didn’t expect to receive anything from him but he told me something that I hadn’t realized I needed to hear. With his genuine and kind tone, he reassured me that even if I had nothing to give him, just say hello.
That really eased a lot of the stress that I often have when it comes to giving to others. Sometimes I don’t give anything because I don’t have spare change or food, and I just walk past homeless people with a look of longing…longing to give them something. This morning Wayne reminded me that even when I don’t have money, even when I don’t have food, even when I don’t have anything, I can give myself. I can say hello in recognition that we exist together. So thank you, Wayne, for making me feel full, warm, and comfortable. The cheese bun pales in comparison to the fullness in my soul because of you. I hope you have a great day and I will definitely say hello next time! :)