When I walk Moose on Sunday mornings, it’s almost always about 7am, it’s my favorite time because no one is awake yet, and it’s always cool. I pour a cup of coffee, and we walk down to the park that’s just about a mile away.
I pass this woman on my way. We always seem to cross paths. She older, I bet 65 or so. She carries a large shoulder bag, the weight of which always has her leaning slightly towards the left. Every parking meter she passes, she always, always puts her hand in the bottom and she checks for coins. I take the most roundabout routes so I can pass by her and give her a big smile, she always gives me one back. I don’t know how much she finds in those parking meters, but I know she never misses a Sunday.
My Mom grew up extremely poor, in rural Korea, for the very little she does share about her life growing up, I am often angry, wondering why someone didn’t do a better job at taking care of her. I felt protective of her at a very young age, and assumed the position of standing by her hip, defending her at the CVS when the young cashier would ask her to repeat what she wanted, when I knew damn well her English was just fine. One day, with a twinkle in her eye, she told me about how she and her brother would steal potatoes from the farm down the road, and that’s what they’d have for dinner.
I saw the twinkle flash across her often sad eyes, and I understood, that for her and her brother, this was the same type of game that I would play with my neighbors growing up. ‘I’ll race you to the fence’ ‘lets see how many june bugs we can catch’ ‘red rover…red rover…’
But then. I have never been hungry because there was nothing to eat.
My mother warned us to never be greedy. To never ever ask for too much. She’d stock the cupboards downstairs with these three things 1) canned soup 2) spaghetti sauce 3) irish spring bar soap. Right on the edge of being lower middle class and being poor, growing up, my Mom was going to be sure we were never hungry, and dammit, her children were going to always be clean. To this day, I shower like 3 times a day, and I’m sure there’s a connection there.
No matter how much we didn’t have…there was always, always enough to give to others. I remember coming home from hours on the ball-field as a teenager, driving home my piece of crap car that would let out a giant sigh once I finally parked it under the basketball hoop, and I’d walk inside, throw my bat bag and cleats down, and there’d be two nuns, or like an entire family at the table. Not strange at all.
I’d wash my hands and take a seat. My ability to work my way through any room and be the one carrying a conversation, came from early tests that are the beginning of many jokes….’so I walked into a room, and there’s a nun, a family from Zimbabwe, and a….’
I adore diversity.
For a long time…the place from which I gave was from a pretty fucked up place, it came from guilt, it came from growing up kinda poor, with this overwhelming sense of feeling guilty for wanting. It came from not asking for seconds to avoid the disapproving look in my mothers eye, and her stern command to ‘never be greedy’ we’d have all these people over for dinner, but my mom would then go on and on about it. ‘it’s important to help others’ ‘some people always have it worse than us’ she say, and sigh and shake her head. Like even she wasn’t believing it. I watched the light go out in my Mom so often, and she tried to fill it with giving to others…it worked, sometimes.
So that’s where I gave from. From a place of people NEED, people are NOT OKAY, people NEED HELP. I have too much, I better give it all away.
It did lay the foundation though, for a world in which I see contribution everywhere. Where I have a keen and genuine ability to give to others minus the martyr that my Mother taught me.
In 2008 I stood up in front of the group at my first Baptiste Level 1 training. It was one of the last nights of the 8 day training, and I stood up, and I shared how when I saw a homeless person, or a person ‘in need’ as I had determined, how I felt it in my whole body, and all I felt was pain. I felt injustice. And I felt the need to make it right. As I’m sharing my whole entire body feels that it is not me, that I am not even talking, but I am sharing because I am so hurt, and I am sharing because it is so misplaced and I know it…but I don’t have the words for it yet. I am crying, and I am shaking, and I am barely standing. I am so full of pain and I don’t want to live that way anymore.
Baron says. It seems likes this really hurts you, when you see a person in need. You cant go through life like this. You’ll never be able to live. You will always always be in pain.
He was right. Up to that point, I had lived taking on the pain of everyone around me, and the lifetime of pain for my Mom. She let me, she needed me to. She said to me always, even as a little kid ‘no one has ever loved me like you do’ and so, I saw it my mission to love her, even when her pain became mine. 2008 was the year it was called out to me again and again in so many forms, I could not continue living the pain of my mothers life, that it was not mine to take on.
In that very same training, Paige, founder of Africa yoga project who would come and still does continue to come into my life to effect waves of realization, says to me, so gently ‘you have to get so clear about where you are serving from, no one needs your help, no one, and you will never be able to truly change anything if what you are doing is trying to fix.’
That was 6 years ago, and I have dove head first into the work. And I am so proud to say where I serve from now. I serve and act from a place of ‘everyone is powerful’ ‘people are joyful’ ‘no one needs fixing’ and EVERYONE, everyone has got a story to tell. I don’t do it perfectly…but I’ve come so so far. I see you. I hear you.
The woman checking for change in the parking meters. The other woman, who seemed my age, she’d sleep in the door frame of the building down the street. I’d see her, and I’d bring her fruit, water, and chocolate. One day she was gone, and I saw the imprint of her dirty clothes, where she leaned into the corner to sleep. I wonder if anyone else knows why that part of the stucco wall is not white, I do.
I think about the dude outside of chipotle, who’s mood changes swiftly. I cant tell if he remembers me or not. I sit down with him once a week or so. On the days he’s being crabby ‘how ya doing?’ ‘oh TERRIBLE, it’s hot out , and I’m HUNGRY’ I sit down with him, and we practice better ways so that he can get what he wants.
Listen, I tell him, no ones going to help you out with an attitude like that. You gotta smile at people. You gotta tell them what you need. Ask. He always smiles and agrees. Tells me I remind him of his grandma who says you catch more honey with bees…or something like that…neither of us can ever get the old adage right. He like the grapefruit fuze’s because they are cold and fizzy, he doesn’t really love burritos, he needs dental work, and they hurt his teeth. But get him a fresh out the cooler grapefruit fizz, and he’ll give you his best smile.
In Sacramento there’s a huge homeless population. One of the biggest in the united states from what I have researched. It’s warm to hot all year round, and the city make a concerted effort to reach out to these folks and give them food and beds for the night.
There’s a photo journalism project I am commited to launching here in sacramento, around the homeless populations here. I’ll write more on this soon, when I am ready to launch the details. But it’s a project I have been thinking about for some time, that honors vulnerable populations by taking their picture and showing them how beautiful they are….and writing about them.
The project will be called Heart & Honor. And I know if there’s anything that I do well, it’s seeing and hearing people.
What sparked this whole blog post tonight, was a woman, who’s name I don’t know. Who goes up and down and up and down the streets in her cart, with a whole lotta bags, of what I see are nothing, but are certainly more than that. She wears a big hat, baggy clothes, and oversized mens nike sneakers.
Every time I see her, we make eye contact, whenever I have it, I give her what’s on me. When I do, she takes my hand in both her hands, and she smiles at me and says thank you thank you thank you. Like the chipotle guy, I have no idea if she knows who I am. There is never this sense in her eyes of ‘oh it’s you!’ but there’s always this sense of us feeling familiar to each other.
I saw her through the windows of yoga tonight. I saw her shuffling down the street, with her big sun hat on. I saw her stop and sit down on the steps of the house that I could see from my sun a’s and my chair pose. I saw a kind man stop and talk to her for a while. I saw her open a bag once he left, from her many bags, and begin to eat. Small bites. I saw her wipe the sweat from her brow, and as I moved my body, and reached up, and folded forwarded, and flowed on through, I glanced forward to her, 100 feet away, eating small bites from her small bag. And she looked happy and content.
She couldn’t see me of course, but I had an overwhelming sense to be near her. I cant help it, I still see my Mom in every person I feel ‘needs’ for something. And I have to pause on it, to get to the other side.
I use the next 10 minutes of my practice, and the glass wall that divides us to send her, and only her, all my love, and I took big big breathes, and moved my body. I decided that when I saw her again, I would make sure she had dinner.
The last time I saw her, she reached down to hug Moose. It was pretty much the cutest damn thing you could ever see. Moose, he just goes with it, like Moose GETS IT. She had just gotten done filling up one of her bags with beer bottles that had been in the sun. She got down on her knees and hugged moose in towards her, and kissed him again and again right on the top of his head, just like I do. I looked at Moose and he looked at me, we both knew he wasnt going anywhere.
When she finally released him, Moose smelled like a kegger, and all of us were smiling. It was really f-ing awesome, and I was filled up with joy.
I was walking home tonight and I saw her again. Shuffle shuffle shuffle. I felt for the 11 bucks I had put in my pocket to grab dinner on the way home. And then boom, there she was. I was dreaming of burritos from about the halfway point to the end of class (this is very, very common for me) I walk over to her, and again, that same sense of we are familiar to each other.
I hand her over the dollar. We smile. And I walk away. As I am walking towards my freaking burrito. I remember. Remembered that I said, the next time I saw her, I’d buy her dinner.
So I walked back to her. For a second, ashamed, I hadn’t just given her everything in the first place. But that faded quickly, as she and I stared with kindness at one another as I handed her over the rest, the 10 bucks.
China she said.
Korea I responded.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you .
And I said back the same damn thing, In essence we were having the exact same conversation.
Where does she sleep tonight? Where does she go? Is someone kind to her? Will someone love her? When did she get a hug last? Is she okay.
But it’s that same twinkle in her eye that she gave me tonight, the one in my Moms eye when she told me a tale of stealing potatoes to eat…that I chose not to see, so that I could make it all wrong. Make the pain excusable. And make it mine to fix.
That little lady tonight, she’s doing alright. I do not know why people live the paths they do. Sometimes…I cant move past this. But then I remember, that someone elses life is simpy not mine. NOR is it mine to judge.
I saw the happiest damn people I have EVER and I mean EVERY met in Kenya. It’s not what you see on TV with kids with fly’s on their faces in rags…that’s part of the story, but it’s not what’s compelling.
It’s the joy. It’s that everyones got a story to tell. It’s that everyone craves to be seen, heard, and loved.
That some of us need more than others…in this lifetime anyway.
10 dollars. Pay it forward. Release any expectation of how it will be used. WHO CARES. Here’s what I know. There are hands are empty, and there are hands that are really full.
Are yours full?
Well then…what can you give. Watch for the twinkle. ITS EVERYWHERE.
You’ll stay in the flow that way, and when your hands are empty, someone will come fill them up. I know this, because I am this. And so are you…
Empty. Full. Who even knows. Get clear on why you give, then GIVE.