Sep 3, 2013
A few days ago, I took an afternoon stroll through the Plaza de Armas. In front of one of the Cathedrals was an old blind man perched on a tiny stool. He had one hand curled into a bowl inches from his face. It was turned upwards a bit, unlike the usual fixed, receiving posture of a beggar. It’s as if he had grown weary from holding it out for much too long. He was sobbing humbly and murmuring Spanish words, almost under his breath, to no one in particular. I stopped in front of him instinctively and placed my hand on my coin purse, though my hand never made it into the purse and no coins made their way out. For about 30 seconds I stood there, about a foot away from him, and watched him weep. Then I walked away. I looked back once. He looked the same -still murmuring, still weeping. Last night I dreamed of him, of that moment. There were no modifications to the plot line of the experience. It happened just as it did that afternoon, but those 30 seconds were stretched out and every detail of it -what was happening in our shared physical space & what was happening with me internally- was available for more slow paced reflection.
I’ve given to street beggars before and I’ve walked away from some as well. In the past, a choice was made in the moment and the moment was left to pass. This particular instance haunts me. It isn’t as clear as your usual brand of regret. There’s no specific “should have” that my mind has assigned to the experience. It’s the sight of him, the feel of him altogether, that haunts me. And even in reliving the whole thing in dream state, where I have the opportunity to do it differently, I still felt paralysis at the sight of him.
There was a quarrel inside of me within those 30 seconds. Two instinctive responses were at odds with one another. His sobs made my heart ache and a part of me wanted to hand over everything I own. Another part of me feared him -the paranoid, wary part of me that has been advised by the fears of others. “People who have less than you always want to take advantage of you for what you have.” Who’s voice that is -I don’t know. I listened to it anyway. The voice spoke and we made an agreement that that was the truth. I had a choice at that moment. I chose fear. Logically, it made no sense. He was blind & helpless. What harm could he have possibly inflicted upon me?
I spend much of my time ranting about compassion and make such an effort to understand the battles another incarnation is facing. And here I am, staring into the eyes of my own hypocrisy. I’ve made no final conclusion about why the experience haunts me so. But I thought I’d jot it down anyway. It doesn’t feel as though it ought to be forgotten.