“Merry Christmas! Hi,” were the words he used to fill my heart and gift me with a present I had never received before on Christmas Day. It was pouring rain and his spirits were brighter than I’d ever seen as he held out a bouquet of flowers as a gift for us. My partner, at the time, had come with me to share some of the Christmas Spirit.
For years I watched him sell flowers or entice drivers to buy them while they waited for the traffic light to turn green. He showed a passion and enthusiasm I rarely witnessed from friends, colleagues and others who were a part of the mainstream employment culture. This guy personified ‘commitment and tenacity’.
From time to time I’d buy his flowers. But mostly I’d offer him some money and thank him for allowing me to give.
Under all the positive energy I felt him exude and the admiration I held for him, I also noticed judgment on my part. “Get a job!”, “Take a shower!”, “Stop feeding off the system!” and “What’s your excuse for living on the street?”
Every year I filled a pint glass container with change. Its weight was significant as it was made up of nickels, dimes and quarters. At Christmas time I always intended to gift this small offering to someone living a ‘street economy’ and most years I made this gift on Christmas Day.
Even before he knew I was going to give him anything, he was handing me flowers. After all, it was Christmas Day. He suspended his street corner sales to acknowledge me and I felt this rush of love from someone I really didn’t know.
As I handed him his Christmas present, he broke down and cried. The stare I received from his eyes, actually his soul to my soul, continues to be one of the most profound connections I’ve made with another human being.
In this instance of connection, I was overwhelmed with all the judgment I had held for this human being, my brother, a reflection of my humanity, a person who perhaps loved others the way I loved. There was no distance between us, only a realization of the ‘judge’ I had become by thinking I was separate from him.
I suddenly remembered that my older brother Rick spent time living on the street. What if this man, at some point in time, supported my brother? Could it be that the one I had judged, although perhaps not him specifically, had gifted my brother with food, shelter, money or even a kind word? Suddenly there was no separation.
It amazed me that in these brief moments of connection with him, I was opening to a wisdom I had not contemplated before. I could now see the thing or things I most judged him for as really being my biggest fears.
It terrified me to live on the street. My biggest dread was selling. What would people think of me? What if someone I knew recognized me? I’m better than this! I deserve more from life! These were all my fears and had nothing to do with him.
All the projections I had of him were really my own limitations. He merely showed up to help me get comfortable or simply acknowledge parts of me I was not willing to be with. This man suddenly became my teacher.
He hugged the jar of coins as if it was the only gift he had ever received. I can still hear him say, “Oh my God, you’re giving all of this to me!” No words made their way past my lips.
As he cried, I cried. As his heart opened, mine did as well. I literally felt like my heart was doing what the Grinch’s did in the fabled Dr. Seuss story. I stood motionless within my own ‘Miracle on Abbott Street’.
I can now see the bigger lesson for me from watching this man, giving him money, feeling his presence, and yes, judging him. I was really seeing myself. What is the old adage? “There but by the grace of God, there go I.”
I project and judge because there is a part of me I have not embraced or have yet to give love to. I so easily made up stories about him because I could not find the courage to manage my own story about myself.
Just as there is something divine about my journey and where and how I am being, it is equally divine for him. I love no longer judging people on ‘the street’. Instead I send them a blessing knowing they are really showing me a part of myself I am learning to love.
I found out, through a friend, that this man’s reason for being on the street relates to a loved one he lost. He told my friend, “I’ve just not been able to recover from my loss.” Yet again another reason to love him. He reminds me of how devastating it can be to lose someone you deeply loved. I can relate to that!
As I walked away from him on that Christmas Day, I heard him yell through the pelting rain, “Is this all for me?”