Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another. ~ DESMOND TUTU ~
When I first see them, they are just two men walking down the street in opposite directions on the same sidewalk leading towards and away from the homeless shelter where I used to work.
The moment transcends ‘normal’ in one instant. As the two men pass eachother, one of the men strikes out and shoves the other man off the sidewalk onto the roadway. He falls to the ground and the other man continues to walk away.
The man on the ground jumps up. His hands are balled into fists. For one moment, he takes a belligerent stance, and then it’s gone. He’s standing facing the retreating back of the other man, his shoulders slumped forward, his arms hang loosely by his side.
I am sitting in my car, about to drive down the lane, away from the shelter where I used to work when this scene unfolded in front of me.
I am stunned. Bewildered.
I stop my car. Get out and approach the man who is still standing in the laneway. “Are you okay?” I ask.
He turns towards me. He is in his 50s, maybe 40s but it can be hard to tell sometimes how old someone who has lived the ‘streetlife’ really is, ‘the street’ can make you appear ten to fifteen years older.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” And he shrugs his shoulders and starts to walk towards the shelter.
“Is there anything I can do?” I ask.
He sighs. “No. I just got off work. I don’t wanna make no trouble. I just wanna lay down.”
I leave him, get back in my car and turn around back to the shelter. I follow him into the building. I want to make sure he’s okay.
At the security desk I wait until he’s checked in. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” I say. And I touch his shoulder with one hand.
Tears form in his eyes. I wonder when someone last spoke to him kindly when he’s been hurt. Offered comfort. A gentle voice.
“Can I give you a hug?” I ask.
He looks at me surprised. “Sure. That would be nice.”
Later, at my meditation class I am deeply relaxed when our guide instructs us to ‘walk into the desert.’
“Walk with no intention,” says our guide. “There’s a figure walking towards you. Welcome them. See who it is.”
It is one of the two men. Not the one who was thrown to the ground. It is the perpetrator.
He is a dark shadow. Dark clothes. Dark hair. Shrouded.
As he walks towards me I want to shake him. Rattle him. Ask him why he did it. Do something to ‘make him see’.
And I realize, he cannot see me. His world is too dark. Too shadowed to see there is light all around. He is beaten down in the darkness.
I stand and hold the light around him. It is all that I can do.
It was a powerful realization. To know that there was nothing I could do to ‘make him see’, or hear or be anyone or anywhere other than that moment right there.
In that realization I knew – he didn’t see the man he shoved. He saw — his past, the pain and anger of the moment, his powerlessness to change the past, his anger at the moment.
It doesn’t make what he did right. It does make my witnessing of what he did more understandable to me.
Sometimes we do things that hurt others. We strike out — with words, with hands and fists, with guns and knives and weapons of mass destruction. We strike out against the injustice, the inhumanity, the cruelty of what has happened in our lives, what others have done to us, what we have done to them. We tell ourselves, we’re not as bad as ‘them’. We would never to that.
Standing in the desert in front of that man, I knew — I was capable of those same actions. His darkness exists in me because I can see it.
The only difference is — he can not yet see there is light within that darkness.
In Africa there is a word — Ubuntu. It means — ‘human-ness’, Humanity to others — “I am what I am because of who we all are”.
I cannot be me unless you are you and you cannot be you if I am not me. We cannot be who we are unless we each become who we truly are without prejudice, discrimination, hatred and war clouding our vision.
That man’s darkness cannot exist without my darkness. And my light cannot exist without his light.
For him to see his light, I must be my darkness and light. Hold true to my being, without being pulled into darkness.
May we all be inspired by the power of our ability to inspire others, to be our most incredible selves, even in the face of darkness.
May we all live the truth of Ubuntu so that each of us can live peacefully in the light of knowing, we are all connected in our humanity.
I have been fighting a cold this week — hence getting up late, no time to write. This post originally appeared on my blog in 2014. I brought it forward because of a post Diana shared on her blog today at Talk to Diana— thank you Diana!