Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ubuntu

When I first see them, they are just two men walking down the street. One towards the homeless shelter where I work. One away from it.

The moment transcends 'normal' in one instant. As the two men pass eachother, the man walking away from the shelter, 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 hanging loosely by his side.

I am sitting in my car, about to drive down the lane, away from the shelter when this scene unfolds 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 age you ten to fifteen years.

"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.

"Yeah. Thanks."

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 the man. Not the one who was thrown to the ground. It is the perpetrator.

He is dark. Dark clothes. Dark hair. Dark shadow.

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 people do things that hurt others. They strike out -- with hands and fists and words and weapons of destruction. They strike out and we rail against the injustice, the inhumanity, the cruelty of what they did believing we would never do the same.

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 -- 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.

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.

It was a powerful moment.

May that power inspire me, to be my most incredible self, even in the face of darkness.

May we all live the truth of Ubuntu.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

LG,

as is often the case - I see this little drama differently

if the two men had just passed - you would have driven away

if the dark man had not shoved the tired man, you would not have taken those steps or had that in mind when you meditated - or have written this piece

we are not all dark, or light, smart or right - we just ARE.

sometimes it is difficult to stand by, watching unfair things happen to the man in the street, TP, or you or me - or anyone

whether we intervene or not, is not the question as much as whether we witness, or not, that we are a player in this game just as both men are

we are all, in some way, inter-dependent inter-connected beings

we breathe the same air

we drink the same water

we walk the same earth

we are intimately connected people who are, for the most part, estranged from each other

you, Louise, alone, cannot fix what is wrong with the world but those of us who love you are so glad that you are trying so hard

be well,

Mark

Louise Gallagher said...

Hello my friend Mark.

Thanks!

I agree -- I also know, like the little hummingbird, I must do what I can. Just as you do and everyone else does -- we must do what we can.

Hugs

trisha said...

the post and the great truth you shared in the end both are fabulous louise.

if only we slow down and try to practice it as much as we can.

its such a great truth, is not it?

lots of love.

Joyceann Wycoff said...

Louise ... thank you for making it more possible to be me. Your words made it possible to witness that scene along with you. I've now also become those two men.

nance marie said...

there is surely darkness and light.

"i don't wanna make no trouble"
it is pretty good that he chose what to make and not to make.

and i am glad he got a hug.