Most mornings I will indulge in a fast-paced walking meditation through the neighborhood before stepping into my car. I drive a lot in L.A., and on average each trip leads me through sprawling landscape and perpetual traffic. When I lived in Seattle and New York, I walked–and all the time. But it’s a mindful thing for me in L.A. because walking doesn’t feel as natural here.
Near where I am staying, there’s an elementary school, and I often walk through or alongside the children heading to school. I take pleasure in the small time in this easy space that quietly shapes my day. Sometimes I strike up a conversation with a student, seemingly awkward, lagging behind the other students. The crossing guard waves at me and speaks. An elderly man, he always has a smile on his face whenever I see him.
This morning, I was driving down the street where the school is located. I reached the stop sign, and just as I began to drive off into the intersection, I heard the whistle which alerts vehicles that children would be crossing the street. Since I was already in the intersection I decided to keep going. But I felt ill at ease about it because it involved children; and I was aware that it was irresponsible.
After parking my car, I walked back to the crosswalk, and upon reaching it approached the crossing guard. I began to apologize for not stopping in time when he blew his whistle. Straightaway, he laughed as he reached for my hand. Holding it, he said with his usual generous grin, “Oh, don’t you worry. You coming to apologize . . . what a beautiful thing. Thank you so so much! What a beautiful thing . . .”
It’s only fair that I say that I screw up so many times every single day. And in truth, there are times where I couldn’t care less about apologizing, even if I am fully cognizant that I should. And more so, am totally mindful of needing to right a wrong–still and yet, choosing to do otherwise. It’s a human flaw we all share. But when selecting to do the right thing, there’s a feeling that washes over your spirit and it truly makes life–and our drama–seem less urgent.
And this is why so often I wonder why we don’t choose to do “a beautiful thing” more often than we do. Why is it we think, somehow, doing the right–“a beautiful”–thing will inconvenience us? Or is it that we just don’t make the time because we’re much too distracted by whatever is on our mind at the time? Being present in the 21st century is perhaps one of the most challenging things to do, even if you have a dedicated practice of being here now.
I can attest: when I haven’t had time, or my head was in the past or the future but I put in the effort to be present, it changed not only how I approached the remainder of the day, but something in me shifted. I felt lighter; not so weighed down with a past I can never ever change or a future not promised. Whatever I (or anyone for that matter) am in such a rush for will not materialize any faster as a result of not choosing to do a beautiful thing.
When we invest in humanity, when we show up, and especially when it’s most inconvenient, not only is that an action from the heart, it redirects the pendulum in your favor and revises the contour of each thing that occurs thereafter. Having acquired the knowledge along the way, I know this: when we pause to do a beautiful thing, or acknowledge someone who looks troubled or sad or their spirit is broken, offering a simple acknowledgement–despite our own life situation in that moment–the Universe will work in our favor. It really, really will. The universe does have your back even when it feels quite the opposite. It’s the quality of our discernment that recognizes the meaning behind any experience. If nothing else, there’s Divine meaning behind whatever happens to us.
Baristas, the grocery sacker, our neighbors, distant family, even friends we replace with new ones because the new ones know less of our backstory–those we keep saying we need to reach out to, could sometimes need our attention just like a total stranger. The crossing guard has traveled a long, and hopefully amazing, journey. He’s certainly lived long enough to know that taking the time and putting in the effort to show up when no one is watching is a genuine act of benevolence–a beautiful thing!