As I’m writing my heart is full of a deep sense of compassion and gratitude for what I learned from a homeless man this evening.
As I was coming out of the grocery store, I noticed a homeless man sitting and writing on something. It was dark, cold and a snowy -15 degrees Celsius night in Calgary. As I approached him I noticed he had a sign displayed but was so busy with his writing he didn’t look up.
I stopped to ask him if he needed anything and he looked up and said, “I’m fine, thank you, but thank you for asking.” I noticed that he appeared to be writing in a journal, so I asked him about it. He said that he was writing in his journal to deal with his feelings about an altercation that he had earlier in the evening. He described how the altercation got him kicked out of the homeless shelter that he had planned to sleep in that night.
He explained that he moved here a few months ago from another province, broke up with his girlfriend, lost his job and was now homeless.
I asked him where he was going to sleep tonight, because it was so cold out. He said a friend who was also homeless had a shelter of some sort with a propane heater and that’s where he was going to spend the night.
I again asked him again if he needed anything. He said that he didn’t need anything, he was just disappointed that he lost his pen for writing and that his pencil didn’t work so well.
I asked him what he was writing about and he said, “my life.” He said another friend told him that he could see about getting his journal published because he had a worthwhile story to tell.
I asked if he would like a pen so that he could write easier and he said: “that would be great.”
As I was turning to go back into the grocery store to get the pen, an employee came out and said, “hey man, I hate to do this but you’re going to have to leave.” The homeless man said, “no problem, I understand.”
A couple of minutes later I returned with the pens and a small amount of money. I know the money wasn’t going to solve anything, but I had just finished reading something that Osho said about money in “Living Dangerously” that stuck with me: “Use it. Don’t cling to it. Clinging is bad. The more you cling to money, the poorer the world becomes. It is currency! That simply indicates that money should always remain moving like a current.”
In my heart, I was giving him the money not as a way to “solve” something because I knew that wasn’t the case, but as a way to share some energy with him.
I knew that my energy was strong and I wanted to share that even though I couldn’t “fix” his current situation.
As I handed him the pens and the small amount of money, I told him that I just knew he was going to find work and that this situation was temporary.
He stood up to leave and said the most gracious “thank you” that I’ve ever heard as he smiled at me.
And then we parted ways. He went to his shelter and me to mine.
I got in my car and just sat there. I was speechless and touched in a very deep way by this man whose face I could hardly see in the dark and in the cold.
In that moment I knew what Joan Halifax meant when she said: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between two equals…. compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
So what does that beautiful statement mean to me?
As I reflected about meeting my homeless friend, I realized that although we live in different shelters and have different life circumstances, we shared our humanity and the suffering that we all experience as a result of being human. I felt his suffering and I believe he felt that I too have suffered at times in my life.
I didn’t feel sorry for him or feel that this encounter made me more grateful for what I had. I just felt connected and a deep sense of compassion for the suffering that we all at times must experience in our lives because we’re human.
Our suffering is what connects us, not in a sad and depressing way but in a way that touches our hearts.
Our life situations may be different, but there is always more that connects us than separates us.
It is in the suffering that we are called to heal. And whether choose to heal, is something we all must face at times in our lives.
We can chose to heal and return to wholeness or we can chose not to.
This man I met has a choice to make, just as I make a choice everyday to heal what I need to in my life in order to become whole.
I was struck by the fact that earlier in the day I had a coaching session with a woman who from the outside looking in had it all together with plenty of abundance.
At one point in our conversation she said that she has been suffering because she has been denying herself what she needed to feel alive and whole inside.
We talked about the power of journaling to reconnect us with ourselves and she was excited to get started as she’d fallen out of the habit.
So here we were, 3 people in one day, who for different reasons all knew what it felt like to suffer. It was such a beautiful reminder that there is way more that connects us than separates us.
I will always remember my homeless, journaling friend and what he taught me about compassion and what it truly means to be human.