You know, I try. Sometimes I mess up. And usually when it comes to my attention that once again I am cycling down the wrong bike lane of life, I am surprised.
As someone who has been through spiritual direction classwork, hospital chaplaincy training and umpteen listening skills classes I have been taught that we all like to be heard, to be acknowledged and to be seen. In a class a few years back, the importance of really deeply, listening when in conversation was discussed. We should not be thinking ahead to what our next comment would be. No mulling over clever witticisms that would cause our companion to burst out in a belly laugh. No. None of that. Listen. Listen with open ears and an open heart.
I try. I swear I do. But I am overcoming a few decades of being a business leader who listened but often was actually waiting until the other finished so that I could expound on whatever wisdom I might impart. And as a parent, I admit, some of my listening was accompanied by impatience so that I could grab a chance to tell said kid exacted what they needed to do. Apologies, dear kiddos.
As part of my training, I have realized that I NEVER and I mean never acknowledged the people who ask for money on the streets. Averted eyes when I walked by them. Dropping my gaze into my lap at a stop light (and someone standing next to the car) was my operating procedure. Never looking at the individual, much less looking into their eyes. So I began to right this wrong. In my egoic haughtiness, I began to not only acknowledge all of these individuals, but would greet them hello, good morning or wave when in my car at a stoplight. Then I began to feel pretty full of myself for being this better person. That became the story in my head. Oh my, I must be a good person for being so magnanimous and come off my pedestal and bid someone a good day.
So when I stopped at a 2222/Lamar stoplight recently, a man sitting on a bucket turned over holding a sign requesting money was very close to my rolled up window. I didn’t bother to roll down my window but I waved to him. No response. So I waved MUCH more vigorously. Damn it, I was acknowledging him and being a better person by doing it. No smile, no gratitude for my wave????? He looked my way with a slow move of his head, raised his hand and flipped me off! He then stood up and proceeded to walk the line of stopped cars to receive money from others behind me.
What? How could he? Those were my thoughts. I was nonplussed and offended. Here I was, in my air conditioned vehicle with the windows rolled up……and I was acknowledging him!!! How dare he?
Almost immediately, I realized what had happened. I had no more met him person to person, heart to heart than I had the sign post behind him. After mulling over the encounter, I realized that I should thank him. He was being totally real, totally there and I was being ….well, I was wrong. Not in my wave, but in my attitude about it.
Don’t know his name, don’t think I will ever see him again, but I am very grateful for the reminder and lesson he gave me. I can never be in his shoes and never know how he feels about being on the street asking for money. I don’t know his story, but I do know he and I are equals in this world doing the best we can with the life we have chosen. I’m not here to dole out waves and hellos as if I were throwing beads at a Mardi Gras parade.
He’ll never know what a teacher he was that day by giving me the bird. Best gesture ever.