After speaking with a man earlier today, I was struck by how I am not living my idea of being present. This was not the first time I was met with this bitter truth. I began this blog in 2014 with the intention of being a voice–a soft reminder–to the reader that each of us should find a way to live on purpose. I use my own personal experiences as examples that I believe exhibits ways, however small, we can show up and find a reason in our day why we’re blessed to experience life. Being present takes work. It requires effort to be mindful in the way we approach–and live–life. In his book, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a Room Full of Noise, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “People are so busy. We are always pulled away from the present moment. We have no chance to live our life truly. Mindfulness can recognize that.”
Earlier today, when I walked out of Ralphs and headed to my car, I was reminded of how often I find myself still judging; it’s this area in my life where I need to do the most work. A man had stopped me, who appeared clean, decently dressed–he was groomed. I was about to step into my car when he said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you, but can you help me out with a few dollars?”
Some years before this encounter, and while residing in Seattle, I was at an ATM machine when a man and his three children approached me. The man began by explaining that he and his children were trying to get to another part of Washington State for the holidays, but the man said he was short on funds. He asked, “Can you help us out?” At the time my finances were stable, and presumably I was in a better place financially than the man with three kids. I’d asked the father, “How much would you need?” The man proceeded to tell me that it was for the four of them, and that they were going to take a Greyhound bus. So I came up with a random figure, and asked, “Can $60 do it for you?” He looked somewhat crestfallen but affirmed with a nod. I took him at his word that he “really appreciated it.” When I shared this with a friend the next day, he said, “What?! You gave a strange man–someone approaching you at an ATM–$60?!” He had no doubts about my being swindled.
So when the man in the Ralphs parking lot approached me, decently dressed and groomed, asking if I could help him out with a few dollars, I decided to find out why. My rule is that I give whatever change I have in my pocket. I prefer not to pull out my wallet. I decided to ask the man, “What do you need the money for?” I saw nothing in his demeanor that suggested that he was put off by my question. He said, “I’d like a bite to eat.” I became curious because his appearance didn’t line up with his needing to ask a total stranger for “a few dollars.” Well-spoken and respectful, there was something in his aura–I sensed that he was lonely.
He explained that he was laid off in 2011 from a job he’d held for 11 years in Bakersfield, and after he’d exhausted finding decent work in Bakersfield returned to L.A. where he had family. While he was using a spare room in a family member’s home, he had no income and was waiting to receive benefits and financial assistance from the government. In the meantime, he didn’t want to continue burdening family with his troubles. If we all took a few minutes away from our handheld devices to hear some of the stories of those wandering the streets trying to get by, we may see something in that person that is likewise in ourselves. Not everyone asking total strangers for money on the streets is a drug-addict or alcoholic. People we make every effort to avoid–they once had a job, a home, a car, a life.
Because his particular story was relatable to me, I broke my rule of not pulling out my wallet. I gave him a five-dollar bill. There was sincerity in his voice when he thanked me. He turned to walk away. I had started my car and was opening my sunroof when I heard a knock at my window. It was that same man who wanted something to eat. It took little time for me to revert back to my judging nature. The thought that swiftly swirled around in my head when I looked up and saw him standing at my window, was that he had misjudged my kindness, and he was now going to hit on me. Or, perhaps I misread him and he didn’t have a good sense of boundaries. I hesitated before I rolled down the window. “Yeah?” I said, and admittedly was suspicious. He said back, “I just wanted to tell you, I wasn’t sure I should approach you.” Curious, I asked him why, and he said, “Because you’re a beautiful woman. Beautiful women don’t take the time for someone like me.”