Mother Teresa tells us to find the divine in each person, the divine in all its distressing disguises.
“If you really want to do something,” she said, “go out on the streets. Find someone living there who believes they are alone and convince them that they are not.”
I remember the first time I saw a homeless person sleeping in the street in New York City. I was a child on my way to a Broadway musical with my parents, when we literally stumbled over someone.
“Dad stop. There’s a man that needs your help. We’ll have to go to the show later. Look at him. He’s fallen to the sidewalk and is staying there.”
My father shook his head, giving my hand a tug. “We can’t stop for every bum in New York or we’ll never get anywhere.”
“But how do you know he’s a bum? Maybe he’s a good person who just fell down and got dirty? It’s getting dark and cold. What will happen to him?”
Father’s well groomed hand shown in sharp contrast to the crusted skin of the man on the ground. “It’s the way of the world, Karen. Get used to it.”
But I never did get used to it and doubt I ever will. How easy it is for us to react and judge, and how different life would be if we stopped to tend our brothers and sisters. How often I have heard words like, “They’re just a bunch of street people, losers and drug addicts. They’re not contributing to society. You can’t help them because they don’t want to be helped. They could work if they wanted to. They’re just a bunch of stinking vagrants, thieves and boozers. They should get a job like everybody else.”
So, let’s back up a little. None of us comes into this world as a dirty drugged out homeless person. We come in as innocent beings full of light, dependent on those around us to feed, comfort, house and nurture our spirits. When that doesn’t happen, we go into hiding, and when hiding isn’t enough and bad things keep happening over and over again, we become smaller, fearful and broken, finally believing that life and all the beautiful things in it belong to someone else.
The solution is rarely a question of providing a disadvantaged person a job, rather it’s a matter of slowly building trust, so they are able to overcome self-loathing, beliefs of not deserving, and fears that have been rooted in physical and emotional trauma. Wounding that manifests in self-sabotaging acts, like addictions and bitterness need to be addressed before life can be successful. Because all healing is first a healing of the heart.
One late evening in my thirties, I was riding around the streets of Portland, Oregon in a shopping cart. Yep, that’s what I said, a shopping cart. I no longer remember who was doing the pushing but know there must have been a few glasses of Merlot involved. We’d come from giving a late night performance at Storefront Theater and needed to let off steam. I was sitting on my coat, balancing a bouquet of roses I’d been given at the end of the show and acting silly and loud.
“Look at me. I’m the queen of the grocery cart, the queen of the city. And all I survey is my kingdom.”
I saw a woman sitting against a storefront window as we rounded the corner on airborne wheels. “Over there,” I said. “Take me over there!” I was a tad too trapped and tipsy to leave the cart, so I bent over the front.
“Here, these are for you dear lady. Now you can be the queen of the city.” She stared up at me, confused. “Take them,” I said. “I’ve come all this way to give them to you.”
“No.” She cast her eyes down. “I don’t deserve them.”
“Oh, but you do. You most definitely do.”
She refused, so I tossed the long green stems and blood red blooms near her blanket, where they surprised me by scattering against the cement like garbage. That’s what burned into my senses, the way a symbol of love and celebration in my reality transformed into trash when they landed in hers, like they’d passed through an energetic field that changed all meaning and relevance.
We create different realities by our thoughts and beliefs but we are not really different: the homeless person, the housewife, the corporate president or bus driver. We like to think we are because of our station in life and all we’ve achieved but inside we’re the same.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.” Mother Teresa.