I was rummaging through books at a Barnes and Noble during my lunch hour when he approached me. “Do you have some money so I can get something to eat?” he asked.
Then he stretched out his palm and showed me the pennies and nickels in it and said, “I’m a diabetic and I need something to eat. This is all I have.”
He rolled up his jacket sleeve and pointed to the bracelet he wore which identified him as a diabetic. I looked into his dark eyes, startled. Our encounter seemed out of context; I’m used to seeing hungry or homeless people at intersections, not in the crafts section of my local book store.
I hesitated for just a second, assessing the man, the situation, too. What made him approach me, I wondered? Did I look like an easy mark, a chump? Or, was he really a man in need?
“I’m hungry,” he said a little louder.
He pointed again to his bracelet and said he needed to eat before he headed back to the interstate. He seemed antsy, irritated even. Just the way I get when my blood sugar drops.
I dug through my purse and gave him enough money for a meal. But first I tried to buy him a sandwich in the Starbucks in the back of the store. We walked to the counter together and looked at the selection.
“I can’t eat the carbs in the sandwiches or the cookies because I’m a diabetic,” he said quietly. I nodded and he told me there was a store down the road where he could get something to eat.
After I gave him money, I wished him well and watched him wander off. I felt a little pang of uncertainty and wondered: Did I do enough? Or, did I just get played?
After a few moments, humility washed over me and reset my spiritual compass. I realized it didn’t matter. Maybe the man was “Jesus in one of his many distressing disguises,” as Mother Teresa might say. Or maybe he had set out to con me out of my cash.
So what. I had answered the call. It was the call to compassion, not cynicisim. And that was more valuable to me than my money or my pride.
A few years ago a good friend of mine found a homeless young woman on the street. Showing great compassion, she put her up in a hotel for a few nights, bought her food, and got her connected with social services. She stayed in touch with her for awhile and continued to provide her with resources. Later, the woman took advantage of my friend’s generosity in dishonest ways.
After that, my friend was hurt, and a lot more discerning about her aid. But I reminded her how she had answered a higher calling and had listened to her own humanity. It wasn’t for her to worry about the outcome….she had played her role.
We can only be responsible for listening to our own call, to our own awakening of our spirit, our humanity.
I reminded myself of this lesson as I went back to sorting through the book racks. And I thought this: I would rather be a compassionate chump then a cynic any day.
I have joined with 1000 other bloggers-1000 Voices of Compassion– worldwide to post on this day, Feb. 20, on the theme of compassion. It is part of a heart-led mission to bring messages of light, love and kindness to this world. If you enjoy this blog, please share. #1000Speak
If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace–if you’re looking for exploratory questions to unearth pieces of your soul, check out my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes