Offer the light of compassion and hospitality, wherever, however and to whomever you can. No matter how meager your offer may seem, do it anyway.
A man lies prone in a sleeping bag at the entrance to my office. Shit, I think, cuz it’s quite cold today. I call out, “Good morning! Hello!” Eyes fly open, a young man scrambles to rise, long dreads swinging. I ask his name. Crying, he says Joe. (I’ve changed his name for purposes of privacy.) I say, Joe, sorry to alarm you. I’ve got clients coming. He’s already packing up. After I open the office, I return. Do want to use the bathroom? He declines. Doesn’t want the trail mix, Kleenex or tea I hold out to him either. As this is unfolding, my client, who’s been watching from her car, slowly makes her way to the front door. I signal it’s ok, and in she goes.
I stand there quietly. Finally, he says he’s exhausted and haltingly relates a disturbing story. Someone slipped what he suspects was methamphetamine into his girlfriend’s drink the night before. She became violently agitated. He called an ambulance and thinks she’s at the hospital. Imagine the scene, the chaos, the fear. In the end, he takes the Kleenex, trail mix and mug of hot tea. Yes, he knows about the warming station around the corner.
Do you want me to call the hospital, Joe? He has no phone. No, that’s ok. Then, although words seem insufficient at such moments, I say I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. He thanks me, walks off with his bundles, still crying. I watch him leave, feeling sad and helpless over his situation. Breathing, I know how little I know.
I think of Joe every single morning when I wake and every night before I go to sleep. Along with Jane, George, Mack, Chris and other homeless women and men I’ve met. And all their dogs. In the quiet hours, I bless them with love.
Was the bit of hospitality I offered enough? Not if I want to be sure he’s warm, fed and comforted. I gave what I could in the moment. There’s no way to square this. We can respond to distressed people in messy situations with tremendous compassion and love. And yet……
I don’t know what compassion counts for in Joe’s world. I’ve reckoned with this fact and don’t argue with it anymore. Feeling helpless is not a crime or a failure. Withholding hospitality, now that’s another story.
How do I deal with this? I turn to what fosters the capacity to move with rather than against experience. I turn to the creative life, to poetry, contemplation and solitude. I find this gives rise to vision, humor and authenticity. Good medicine to counteract the fear that doesn’t make contact with the other.
Imagine being an Aikido-Spirit, taking what life presents not as a personal affront or judgement, but rather as a dance in which feeling and action happen on behalf of the whole. Thus everything becomes useable energy. The infinite range of outcomes isn’t in our hands.
All I know is that a heart of compassion and hospitality counts, no matter how meager the offer looks. Beyond that, I don’t know. Which reminds me of an old fable:
A farmer had only one horse. One day his horse ran away. His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs. His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and many young men died, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted. His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
I love the liberating truth of this story. I-don’t-know-we’ll-see allows a singular focus on outcome to be supplanted by the freedom to creatively respond to what’s called for here-and-now. It counts that we keep our divine appointment with love and humor alive, day by day, moment by moment. May it be so.
Love, blessings and kindness without end, Krayna