Every morning after meditation, I ask how I may be of service. What can I give? What can I offer to life itself? I open up to any inspiration and signs that may come my way and act on it.
Yesterday while my son was in his Thai language class, I went to Berkeley Bowl, a huge natural foods store a couple blocks away. They have an amazing array of produce at really good prices, so I stock up whenever I can.
As I was leaving, a man approached me. He took off his hat and said something like, “Ma’am, I’m hungry, can you spare anything?”
Assuming he meant money, I said no, I have nothing. I don’t really like giving money to homeless people, as I feel it doesn’t solve their problems, especially when it is reported that they spend that money on alcohol.
And where I live, there are ample resources to help the homeless and poor with a bed to sleep in and meals. I walked by a homeless advocacy office just down the street from Berkeley Bowl, so there are lots of places to go for help if one is serious about getting it. Handing out cash is not a way I feel is truthful for myself to help.
But as I walked through the parking lot, I almost got to the sidewalk, laden with two heavy bags full of food. The man said he was hungry. He even took off his hat when he addressed me, which touch me.
I don’t have nothing, I have plenty and I reached into my bag and took out one of the Pink Lady pesticide-free apples I bought. This variety is one of my favorites and the fact that they were near-organic was a big plus.
I returned to the man.
“Did you say you were hungry?” I asked him. He said yes.
I put the apple into his hand. He looked at me like I was crazy. This was unexpected!
I said to him, “Will you eat it? Do you want it?”
He came around and said that yes, he will eat it.
I discovered a couple of things after that interaction. I contemplated my act of giving and how it could have gone better and my intentions with giving.
I found that I didn’t want to give something that was not wanted. As the man looked at me like I was crazy after I put the apple in his hand, I realized I didn’t want the fruit to go to waste. I didn’t want the man to simply throw it away because he didn’t want it.
This was why I asked him if he even wanted it in the first place. Maybe he doesn’t like apples. I’d rather take it back than have it wasted and unwanted. I valued that apple!
Lesson learned: ASK first. Do not assume that someone wants what you are about to give.
Get some more conversation going
My intention was to help, but this is a human being I’m interacting with, and more dialogue would have been better. This conversation might have been more compassionate:
Me returning to the man with an apple in my hand: “Did you say you were hungry?”
Me: “Well, I don’t carry any cash on me, so I can’t help you there. But I do have apples. Would you like an apple? These are my favorite because they are sweet and tangy and crunchy. I think you’ll like it.”
Man: “OK, thank you.”
Engaging in a bit of dialogue would have been better than just coming back and plopping a piece of fruit into his hand. The man might not have looked at me like I was crazy if I had approached him with more conversation.
Lesson learned: Dialogue means you are regarding the other person as another being, not as something that needs fixing.
Who would have thought that giving could be so nuanced? It is certainly more complicated, requiring mindfulness to do it with compassion.
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