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“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.”- Mother Teresa

As I was waiting for my café mocha at Starbucks I noticed a man sitting in a corner surrounded by old torn shopping bags. He was young but had the weathered look of somebody living on the streets. He was just sitting there with a vacant look. I saw no food or drink in front of him and wondered if he was hungry.

I stood there for a while watching and trying to make eye contact to see if it was safe to approach. He looked at me at a couple of times. I try to be careful while approaching people uninvited as I have been yelled at before. Nowadays it seems that there are a lot mentally ill people on the street.

After thinking to myself that it was safe to approach I did so. I asked him, while sitting down next to him, have you had coffee? He said he did.

Instead of getting up and leaving I insisted. Can I get you any breakfast? No, he said.

Again, getting up and leaving never came to mind. By this time I was thinking that instead of food he probably needed human contact and conversation so the following exchange took place:

Me: At least it is a nice warm day today. (Weather? Is that the best l I could come up with? Lame!!)
Him: Yes, it is.
Me: What is your name?
Him: Listen, I don’t need anything. I am fine. I don’t need you to get me anything. (he said that in a loud annoyed voice)

I was startled, shocked, speechless, and sad, so many emotions were going through me. I looked around to see the other people’s reaction but I saw none. If they noticed and heard it – and how could they have not being that he was so loud;  they made a point of ignoring it and pretending nothing happened.

I mumbled something like “I am sorry” and just sat there frozen in place.  My drink was still not ready, so I couldn’t just run away. Eventually I got up and stood next to the counter.

Finally my coffee arrived and I left. I still didn’t know how to feel as I walked to work.

Something I was told many years ago came to mind. In one of my trips back home to Brazil I went to a Shaman – a spiritual healer. I don’t remember everything he said, but one thing marked me and helped me a lot throughout the years. Clearly I needed a reminder today.

The Shaman said and I paraphrase: Why are you trying to be God? Why are you trying to fix people’s lives? If you take care of your own life that is good enough. Let people come to you and ask for help if they need it. Don’t go thinking you know exactly what they need, you don’t!

At that point in my life, and to this day still, I try to make the lives of my loved ones as easy as I can. I overdo it.  I am always the fixer, the peacemaker.

To this day I try to remember that when trying to help people that never asked for help. Clearly sometimes I fail. I will try my hardest to wait to be asked.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that this will not be the last time I get yelled at. I am sure at some point I will try again to push food and myself on somebody that just wants peace and quiet.

The lesson here?  I am still trying to figure that out, but some things come to mind:

  • Don’t ever assume anything.  Don’t assume you know somebody’s situation by the way they are dressed, by what they are carrying, by where they are, etc.
  • Don’t interfere/volunteer.  Don’t interfere in someone’s life unless they ask. Don’t volunteer advice, help, etc, unless you know for sure that is needed and welcomed.
  • Exercise caution when approaching a stranger.  This person could have been mentally ill and even have had a weapon.
  • Rejection is not the end of the world.  One survives and moves on.
  • Ask yourself why do you want to help.  Is it to make yourself feel better or is it to make somebody’s life or just that minute in their life better?  Does it make a difference? humm, that give me the idea for another post about intention and outcome.

*** Update:  The Opera is tomorrow and I am going! Le Boheme here I come!***