Archives for: September 2015, 09


09/09/15 | by Shareen [mail] | Categories: downtown girls

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil

I made it to Venice earlier than I expected. The roads were open and I drove easily from the east end of Orange County to Venice. It was the kind of drive that makes one feel lucky and free. The radio on, the windows down, moving fast, I felt the exchange of mind to moment. ‘ The sky is open and clear, the air is cooler here, this patch of freeway looks like the beach. The colors of the Westside line up to the colors of sea side.’ My thoughts opened up. I felt my energy shift into low gear as I arrived.

It is the last Monday of the month. At 6 I will meet a team of volunteers from my church to do the laundry for those without homes. We meet at the Rose Bud Laundromat in Venice. We commune with and support our ‘homeless friends” to launder their clothing, sleeping bags, blankets.

My early arrival allowed me time to go to the Starbucks on Main Street. I consider a half hour with the paper or a book in Starbucks a luxury. I grabbed the NY Times and a coffee and took to an armchair eagerly.

On the front page an obit of one of humanities great witnesses. A brilliant doctor and author has died and the most gifted of book critics Michiko Kakutani has written a loving and knowing tribute. Oliver Sachs has taken his place behind the camera. Heaven was not so far away for this humanist, curious about and honoring of all of life. Dr. Sachs held an especially loving fascination with all those living at the fringe of sanity. I imagined that he might have pondered if they perhaps live in the only sanity, or if their reality holds gifts, answers, that those of us tethered by the balance of our chemistry cannot know.

As I read, a man approached me. He extended some crumbled dollars forward in what was his open and dark palm. He asked me for a cup of coffee. Yes, this is Starbucks and the latte he hoped for would not be purchased for three dollars. ” Sure", I said, “Order what ever you want. I got it.” And I did get it for him and going back to my paper, and my seat, I wanted three things. I wanted that he would get his coffee and leave me alone to read. I wanted that no one around me would think me wonderful for buying a man a cup of coffee, and I wanted that he not over thank me, or thank me at all. Mostly, I wanted to read again undisturbed.

In NY, the day before, I ducked into a church for a service. The message concerned the equality in the exchange of giving and receiving. There is no shame in need and no pride in giving. Both the giver and the receiver are employed by God as recipients of His good. ” All gifts come from Him” said the priest. He was not an inspired man but I took this with me as refreshed knowledge. “What is mine is His". Recalling this, I got up again, and as the man waited for his latte, I slid a 20 into his palm. I smiled into his eyes and said something like, ” You might want something to eat.”

Again, back to my paper hoping no one saw me. Again, my hope of invisibility and to be undisturbed. As I read, I felt this man come near again, and I peered up at him. I gave him only the tops of my eyes, my nose still pointing downward to the paper. I am reading my posture said. I am reading and you are interrupting me but I will glance up with patience for a moment, ” yes.” I smiled.

He was smiling and holding his coffee and he was gleefully mid sentence. From him I heard that the weather was better these days and it was less hot. The weekend had been tough for him but today was a better day, and I nodded in agreement. Without a word returned, I nodded, Yes, Yes, and I offered one small final nod of my head to punctuate that this is the end of our conversation. I would love to finish this article.

I looked back down to Dr. Sach’s obit to read words written like “humanist, observer of life, aware of the great connectivity of all things, compassionate.."…. and my periphery grew empty as the man drifted away. In the moment of his disappearance I knew that what I gave him was not really what he wanted.

My heart to write this breaks with shame. A healthy shame. A shame filled with my own self love and forgiveness but a shame filled with loss. Little tears of understanding drop and I know you share them. We know this, all. He wanted, she wants, they need, my mom in her bed falling asleep, her small hand in mine, this man with the open hand, ….. my seamstresses, my clients, …. all, us, me….. to be seen… to be heard, to be made alive and worthy of our reality, our fullness, purely by our attention. To be gifted presence. Ah, God. it is hard to be generous in this way for us and I say us because it is the struggle of this modern life.

He wanted to talk to me. He wanted to share his experience and hold his cup there at the party with me as his hostess. I would give anything right now to return to him and say, “Yes, yes, doesn’t the air just kiss the skin so perfectly today. I felt it too. I feel it too. Hi, tell me who you are. What brings you here, my friend?”

I have only my tears to give him this morning.

I gathered my unread paper and drove to the laundry and gave away what I had reserved. I see many of the same faces on these Mondays but this month I met and came to know Charlie, and Rey, and Leo my friend with skin like ink who comes from New Orleans, and lived with his Grandmother there. His mother came to LA with his brother when he was 6 and finally at 14 he followed her here. I listened as he told me of jail and of trying to get work and the mission down the street where he waits on line to shower and how by noon it feels too late to look for work. I told him, “You are in such struggle, but you have such light. You have joy. I see it in you.” And he said, ” Yes, I do, God is good.", and without punctuation he added, ” At night, I cry.” “At night you cry.” I repeated into his eyes. ” Yes. At night I cry, but I have hope.” And my friend Charlie, who told me of his stroke and that he knows his feet will recover their nerves so that he may walk more easily, and Rey who grew up in a town of millionaires, Roslyn, NY, minutes from my home town on the north shore of Long Island. He is about the age of my brother. I know well the shirts he used to wear. No washing of his stained T-shirt will fully restore Rey, but perhaps my smiling into his eyes returned to him some pride. Perhaps.

On my drive to the Rose Bud I had thought to talk to Jimmy my pastor about ministering. Divinity school. I have thought on this for over a year. In my struggle with what may be an undeniable calling, I have accused myself of a desire for escape. Perhaps I am looking to run away from the pain of my life. Perhaps I am looking to fill spaces that I seem unable to fill. And I have to laugh now as I see that to minister is to look deeply into the pain of all of life. Perhaps to minister is to walk in the truth that there is only one pain, as there is only one love. “I cry at night too”, I should have said. “ I cry at night too. When you cry tonight, know that I am there crying with you. God is good. There is hope. I am with you and you are with me.”

Like this, in God, we redeem and are redeemed.

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