Friday, July 20, 2012

The Blessing of a Ragpicker (part one)

I kept seeing him, outside stores where I regularly shopped.  Walking into the grocery store, glancing over to my right, there he'd be, sitting in the shade at one of the break tables, where he'd smile and nod at me.  Or, on another day, in another section of town, I'd see him hanging around the health food store.  Once, I saw him walking toward the alley behind the store, and as if he sensed my presence, he turned, looked right at me, and nodded his head in greeting before disappearing behind the building.

He was tall, with long, unkempt, greyish brown hair.  He had a long, bushy beard that hung down to his chest, and blended perfectly with his wild hair.  His clothes were old, stained, and judging from the way they hung loosely over his body, maybe 2 sizes too big.  Everything about his appearance, from head to toe, said he needed a good washing.  But his eyes seemed friendly enough, smiling in blue. 

Maybe he'd always been around, and I simply hadn't noticed before.  I had, after all, begun a new practice of sending silent blessings, as I went through my day, to all who came within my line of sight.  I had started a journey the year before, of learning all I could about love, and not long before this man appeared, I read something that caught my interest, and I felt it was important in some way to the lesson of love.  I wanted to put it to the test, practice it, give it an earnest try, to see where it led my heart.  It was a suggestion to bless all those I meet, all those I see.  To send out silent blessings for all.  The author (Annalee Skarin) went on to say that those silent blessings helped more than we could possibly comprehend, because the energy from our thoughts was real, and had the capacity to wing their way out to embrace a world.

At the time, I knew I was filled with fear, and saw the world, and the people in it, as a very dangerous place.  One in which I most definitely did not feel safe.  I viewed everyone as a stranger, with my primary focus on how they could potentially harm me.  I gave my trust to no one.  So after I read that suggestion, I thought maybe the people in the world weren't all bad, and it was me who needed to change my view.  Maybe it would help if I walked in the world with the intention of sending out blessings to all those strangers.  Perhaps it'd help me see the world as a friendly place to walk, instead of one that produced anxiety attacks within me. Maybe the cause of my anxiety wasn't them so much, but stemmed from the way I was viewing them.

So I put a cap on my fear, and made a conscious effort to bless all who came into my line of sight.

The first thing I noticed, depending on my mood, was just how much I was in the habit of keeping my head and eyes down.  On the flip side of that was a cold, unsmiling, defensive stance that definitely sent an unwelcome message.  With the realization of both defensive stances came the awareness of just how much I generalized people, and how hard it is to bless a person when you're looking at them as the enemy.  And to me, they were all potential enemies.  There was something in me that wanted to be right about what I saw, or what I was thinking, of how they could hurt me, and that didn't produce good enough feelings toward them to even be able to think two words, "Bless them."  To rectify that, I decided to break it down, and take one person at a time, as an individual, and get honest.  Easier said than done, believe me.  So I came up with a list of questions, the most important reminders being, "Can I honestly say I really know this person to pass judgement on them?"  And, "Has this person done anything at all to me...yet?"  Keep in mind, they were strangers!  I didn't know one thing about any of them at all!  I realized I was approaching everyone as guilty before anything ever really happened! 

I began to see a lot more homeless, or poor people than I anticipated.  I'd never noticed them before, my eyes simply sliding right by them as if they weren't there.  I'd never, ever made eye contact with one.  I treated them as if they were a non-entity, or some sort of strange phenomenon.  But with this new practice, my eyes were open to seeing people, and homeless folks were among them.  And let me tell come face to face with my thoughts and feelings regarding them was an unpleasant surprise.  None of my thoughts were good.  It remains one of the most disturbing discoveries I've ever made about myself.

So when the man I described at the start of this post kept appearing in my line of vision, I was not a happy camper.  A blessing for him couldn't be found within me.  In fact, I was a little freaked out, and wondered if maybe he was following me. 

Then, one cold day, I saw him sitting on a bench in front of the store, and again, he looked up as I walked by, and smiled a greeting.  It took everything in me to give a little smile and a greeting back to him.  Silent blessings were one thing, their appeal to me being that they're silent, but the book said nothing about actually engaging anyone, and a blessing was as far as I was willing to take it at that time.   

However, that day, a feeling, a sense, some strong thing within me, said to give to him.  I had no idea what to give to him.  What does someone like this want?  Everything I have maybe?  And as if he knew what I was feeling, he suddenly asked as I walked by, "You wouldn't happen to have a light, would you?"  A light?  I even said that out loud to him.  It was the last thing I was thinking he wanted, so my brain heard the word as if spoken in some foreign language.  He held up a cigarette butt for me to see that he'd probably gotten from one of the ashtrays sitting in front of the store.  I said, "Oh!  Uh...yes, just a sec..."  I dug around in my purse, and found my lighter nestled by my own cigarettes, and that's when it hit me...I could give him a cigarette.  The thought of him smoking a cigarette butt thrown away by someone else made my stomach turn.  But I understood the need for a smoke, and knew how hard it was to go without one.  I couldn't imagine it, but if I was ever so desperate as to even think to go looking for smoke butts, that would be my cue it was time to quit. 

So I pulled out a cigarette and offered it to him, along with my lighter.  He stared at it, then me, for so long I grew impatient and I said with a shrug, "Take it.  I can relate."  He gave a crooked smile, and took it with a gracious bow of the head, saying, "Thank you."  After lighting it, he inhaled deeply, and said, "Ah.  Fresh tobacco.  Nothing like it."  I stood there wondering if I wanted my lighter back after he'd touched it, and when he moved to return it to me...I suddenly felt something mysterious in me let go.  As I reached to take my lighter back, I looked at him squarely in the eyes, and asked him if there was anything else I could do for him.  He met my gaze, and said, "You could sit with me and talk to me for a bit."  When he saw my hesitation, he said, "I won't hurt you."

I sat down, and the conversation started...

( be continued.  Look for part two on Sunday, 22 July.)


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