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To Look the Other Way or Not

There has always been that awkward moment for me when a homeless person is approaching, whether I am in my car or on foot.  There is a split second moment where I choose – Do I make eye contact or not?  Do I have anything substantial to offer?  What if he or she is that rare person who is unstable and on the brink of doing something crazy?  The last inquiry is interesting to me because any one of us can be unstable, whether we are well dressed or not.  One can never really know what is beneath the surface just on appearance.  However, the sight of someone barely or poorly clothed, grimey and dirty, with a sadness about them, makes the question arise for me more often than not.  With that question comes a sense of difficulty in myself, in who I am and how I may judge others.

I observe these feelings and thoughts arise almost every day on my drive to my girls’ school or back, as I encounter someone at the intersection of Airport Blvd and 35.  I feel a strong sense of discomfort in looking at someone who is in need if I have nothing to offer them on that occasion.  I personally do not like giving money in the chance that it only feeds a habit of alcohol or something unwholesome.  If I have food, I gladly offer it, but it is not always the case.  What does not sit well is that whether I have something to offer or not, by not looking at them, I have not acknowledged them.  I have made them invisible in my eyes and also in their own.  I don’t know what in their experience brought them to where they are and me to where I am.  Disparity is everywhere, but I only add to it when I choose to not see it or feel it in my own heart and through my own eyes.  They are as human as I am, no different in the end outside of circumstance.

For some time now, I have chosen to allow myself to meet the eyes of every homeless person that comes along my path, whether in that moment I have something to offer or not.  I make that choice no matter how it makes me feel.  Whether it is sadness or discomfort, I want to choose to feel and to honor.  It is only in turning toward that I can truly take in their difficulty and feel it through my own heart.  And ultimately whether or not I have something tangible to give, at least I can offer my presence and attention, even if only momentarily.  I can allow them to feel seen and valued as they are and hope that someone else might do the same.


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post, this sums up my mood today. In moments of sadness or discomfort sometimes the only thing you can do is have gratitude for being able to feel even if that feeling is the opposite of what we seek out, which is usually happiness. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Much love!

    June 23, 2014
    • Thanks Jen! Yes, gratitude for the act of feeling and hoping that the difficult feelings will soften us.

      June 23, 2014
  2. In the past few years, I’ve also been making an effort to meet people’s gazes, which has been a struggle for me for a variety of reasons, including the situation you describe. This exercise has taught me that tenderness turns up in the faces of far more people than I’d ever imagined, and it reminds me that my expectations are not the stuff of reality. Seeing a person respond to my own face with a smile or a nod makes me feel grateful, connected and less fearful….and, as you said…seen. Thank you for your words today.

    June 23, 2014
    • Yes, you said it beautifully! Thank YOU for sharing your words Lesley.

      June 23, 2014
  3. Shirley #

    I, too, have felt the same discomfort and decided to acknowledge them with a smile and a wave. I have been surprised at the way they light up by such a simple act. Now I do it all the time, many times to the same person on the same corner. In a way it’s a Tonglen practice.

    June 23, 2014
    • I’ve felt the same. It’s beautiful how a gentle & kind gesture can make a difference on both ends. Yes, that’s a wonderful way to look at it – a tonglen practice. Thank you Shirley!

      June 24, 2014
  4. Manju #

    Thanks for sharing this post Sheils ! I always have the same feelings towards the homeless person. At least I can give my kind attention for that moment, have a eye contact and give a smile.

    June 25, 2014

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