The first time I saw him, there was just something about him that I couldn’t ignore. I will admit, I have become somewhat desensitized to homelessness. You see it all the time and you can’t stop and chat or give out food, water, etc. to every homeless soul on the street, so I sometimes turn my blinders on and plow past like I didn’t see them. I had just passed several homeless men on the streets of Barcelona on my spirited dance-walk back to my temporary living space. I was in my own little bubble, feeling good about the day’s events and the people I’ve been connecting with. My spirit was full. But then I saw them…and it reminded me that there is much work left to be done. Part of me just wanted to be in my feel-good box and not have that space be disrupted. But I know better.
Then I saw the little old man on the corner. He had set up a space on the sidewalk near an intersection with his sign and a few belongings. I couldn’t read the sign because I don’t speak or read Spanish. His face and clothes were dirty. He looked indifferent standing there. Or maybe I mistook indifference for the feeling of emptiness or loss. Either way, there was also something very kind in his eyes. As I said, I was putting up my protective wall by not making eye contact so I didn’t have to feel the heaviness of their story. I tend to feel a lot from other people and sometimes I just want to protect myself from that. I love smiling into people’s eyes and sending that smile into their spirit, but when there is that kind of heaviness or suffering, that can be harder to do when you want to cling to life’s good “highs”. I’m working on breaking through that. So I allowed myself to make eye contact. I smiled at him, feeling a little sad that all I had to give him in that moment was a smile. But I saw something light up in him when I did. It was like a switch had been hit and the “I’ve been acknowledged” light went on inside of him.
And then I remembered, I had a banana in my bag that I hadn’t eaten yet. So I gave him another smile and handed it to him. Now he was looking like a kid on Christmas morning! I would like to believe that the shift in his expression had little to do with the banana. Since that day, I’ve been seeing him on that corner as I sashay my way to and from workshops and events and I’ve decided to focus my love and attention on him for the rest of my time here. Every day, I am prepared and ready to leave him a little nugget of encouragement or support should I see him. And every time I see him, he gives me a gift in return. He says thank you with his wide eyes and reminds me that all we want and need is to be seen and acknowledged. Everyone deserves that and it’s not too much to ask. We don’t have to agree with a person…we don’t even have to like them, but we are responsible for how we treat others and we owe it to our brothers and sisters on this planet to allow them their human experience and to respect the fact that they are doing their best with what they have.
It is not our place to judge or condemn. We all have something valuable to teach each other and much to learn. There are teachers all around us, but we won’t see them if we don’t have the eyes of a student.