Thursday, March 22, 2012

Snapshots From My Journey - #2 The Beggar

(Note:  If the title of this post makes you wonder what Snapshot #1 was, you might want to click here and read it first.)

Snapshot #2:  The Beggar

It was a long morning.  We'd already walked around the perimeter of the White House, and made the loooong walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building, plus spent two and a half hours of walking around inside the Air and Space Museum.  This was also our third day of walking. Our feet were hurting, our backs were sore and we were tired. 

But I'm not sure that makes what I was about to do any better.

We were heading into the Museum of Natural History (our last stop for the day) and it was hotter now under the afternoon sun.  It was also getting more crowded by the moment.  I was growing tired and irritable but trying to keep things positive for the kids (and me).  As we were approaching the building, I spotted a man with a small bucket of change.  As I began to walk past (trying to avoid eye contact) he held the bucket out, shook it a bit and then looked me at me saying,

"Got any spare change, Miss?"

Right then about a thousand thoughts went through my head:  What if he's lying and doesn't really need it?  What if he uses it to buy drugs/alcohol?  How much change does he want/need?  Can I offend him by offering too little?  If I give to him will I have to give to others, too?  If I pull out change, should I give bills?  He seems pretty clean, does he really need it? How do I politely say no? What if I need quarters later for the Metro, or a vending machine?, etc.  (Side note here:  I still haven't needed that change.  Even now.  And its five days later).  . 

I'm sure many of you have been through this before.  It's not the first time it's happened to me, either.  But it seems like no matter which decision I give or not to give... I rarely feel right with my decision. 

This time was no exception.

Giving in to the weariness of the day-- my sore back and feet, the heat and my own irritation at the thought of having to dig through my seemingly bottomless (yet very heavy) bag-- I decided to turn him down.

"Sorry, no."  I told him, looking near--but not directly in--his eyes.

He just smiled back at me with a calmness and peace (and a clarity in his eyes that seemed to make the drugs a less likely possibility), and said in the most tender voice (picture a loving grandfather here), words I hope I never forget:

"That's all right, Sugar.  You have a great day."

And it haunts me still.

What's so haunting about that? you may wonder.

Well,  if the whole truth be told, I didn't give it much thought at first.   What haunts me is the thoughts that came later...when my prayers led me there. 

You see, sometimes at night, when I can't get to sleep I use a simple  prayer that my spiritual advisor/good friend/mentor Sister B taught me.  I find  it quite effective.  Sometimes if I think my day has been a complete waste, it's helpful to see that maybe it really wasn't.  But, I especially enjoy it when I'm already feeling joyful, (which I was that night, because our vacation was going so well!)

Anyway, it's very simple.  You just ask yourself,

Where did I see/meet/witness God in my life today?

And when you've had a particularly joyful day (or days) this is so much fun, because it helps you to see God in ways that you may not have even noticed Him while you were "going forward."  It's only in this special way of "rewinding" that you see Him in places you may have missed.

And I saw Him again and again in many ways throughout our trip.  I saw Him in the way our family worked together as a team getting to and from each spot making sure no one was lost or drifting too far.  I saw Him in the way our children made a game of every train and elevator ride as though it were their first time.  I saw Him in the way our great United States shows such reverence for both its leaders and its fallen, who I think-- often in the first  instance as well as the second-- paid a Personal Price.  I saw Him in the faces of  various individuals we'd encountered that were so kind, like the Metro lady who, though clearly worn out and beyond exasperated that someone like me could  be so ignorant of how to get a simple train ticket out of a machine, still forced a smile and said, "It's aw'right.  I'll show ya how."   

The list of people and places I saw God in that day went on and on like that:  fun memories and realizations (revelations) of things I'd not "seen" until I played them back, looking for God.  

But when my thoughts took me to the beggar?  Well...that was when my blood ran cold. 

Because that's when I remembered (again) that  God is in all of us.

Which means He was in that man who was asking for something I was perfectly capable of giving him.  And I'd told Him,

"Sorry, no."

Now,  maybe you're thinking that I'm reading way too much into this little scenario and that the man probably WAS on drugs.  And that's fine.  You may be right.  He may have been on drugs.    He may have been an evil-hearted man with an evil plan for the world.  Still,  the fact remains that in the moment that I denied his help, he was both understanding and forgiving.  So, I can only ask you (and myself) this:  Even if all the other things were true, would that have made it wrong of me to give (or more right not to)?

Or, you may be thinking  Don't be so hard on yourself.   (Uh...thank you, but  I already know that, remember?  I just found the Y in JOY! )  Still... I can't help but think of a little story similar to this that Fr. Carlo Carretto told in his (very awesome) book Letters From the Desert.  He told of how he (a priest living in a small dwelling in the desert with literally little more than the clothes on his back) had two blankets and thought he should share one with a man he'd met on his way into town.  Later, when he'd returned to his place,  he realized that he'd forgotten to give it to the person who needed it.  And it haunted him.  At the time I read this, I remember thinking, Oh, Father Carretto, I'm sure God forgives you!  You've done many good things! 

But now I know how he felt.

You see, in my first  snapshot, I wanted to help another person, who (after some hesitation) allowed me to help, and I did.   I felt better for it. This snapshot is easy to look at, and still brings me joy.

In my second snapshot,  someone is asking me for help, I am clearly able to help (down to the point of complaining about the weight of my bag which would, arguably, be a bit lighter if I got rid of some change), but I am not willing.   So I chose to tell him NO.   This snapshot brings sadness to my heart.

The most difficult part about writing this is that I still don't have the answer.  I'm still trying to sort out what my head is telling me and what my heart already *knows*.

But I DO think the man's condition at that moment is not relevant to the choice I made.  I also think his response tells me that, at least in that moment, he was a better person than I.  Maybe he always was.  Maybe he still is. 

Regardless,  a faith journey is very often about stumbling around blind.  It's about continuing the search for God even when you think you may have turned away.   So, with the jogger as my inspiration, I am choosing to allow God's Spirit to help me see now something that I didn't see at the moment of the beggar's asking.

And I can tell you right now it is something I'd  rather not see.  But since I didn't give willingly when he was asking, I must look willingly now.  As I understand it, it's one of the best ways to grow.

It's what some Christian mystics call "seeing with the Third Eye."  They say the Third Eye sees things that our eyes see and our  mind reasons to be contradictory.  With the Third Eye, though, we hold those seemingly contradictory things together not thinking either/or, but both/and.  It often holds joy and sorrow together at the same time.

So, in this instance, this is what my Third Eye sees:

BOTH snapshots hold Truths about the person I am:  I GIVE (when I want) which brings me happiness, AND I DENY some people help when I am asked (even though I am able) which (if I'm willing to reflect on it later), brings me sadness.

Not surprisingly, if I were to draw a picture of what this looks like it would be cruciform.

Because those two snapshots I showed you?    They are, as Christians say, "my Cross."  It bears BOTH the eternal joy of a pleasant moment of kindness towards a fellow human being, AND the wicked stain of  rejection towards a fellow human being who asked me for help.

But-- just as in that moment on Calvary hill--God is with us on both sides of our decisions. 


(Even  the wrong ones!)

And if  we are willing to SEE it transforms us.

For me, that transformation lightens my burden and allows me to give both the beggar and the jogger a gift I would most likely not have given them if either she'd  told me my help wasn't needed, or I'd dropped my coins in his bucket.

And that gift is my prayers. 

Of gratitude. 

Of thanksgiving.

Of courage.

Of forgiveness.

Of humanity at its best and its worst.

And of love for humankind. 

And who knows?

Maybe that was the Real Plan --for each of us-- all along.

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