Friday, March 30, 2018


Outside the door of my local supermarket there's often a homeless man or woman squatting on the pavement. They've changed over the years - the beggar is more likely to be a refugee nowadays - but this specific location seems to be known to the disenfranchised as a kindly one. I am certainly not the only person who has stopped and talked for a while, given money and/or a coffee and sandwich to one or more of these citizens of nowhere.

A few years ago I had several conversations with one of them, a grizzled fellow of indeterminate age, always accompanied by a large brown dog lying quietly under a blanket beside him. I learned that the man had a leg injury, was on a list to be moved into a council flat in a few months but the list was long and he was sleeping rough while waiting. Some time passed and then he was gone from that spot by the supermarket door. 

Yesterday he was there again, same grizzled face, same brown dog, same blanket. Now here's the thing:

I didn't stop to speak to him or give him money or a sandwich. I was annoyed, suspicious. How come he's back again, I thought, it's been years! He was probably lying about the council flat or else they threw him out for drunkenness or something. My benevolent concern for an unfortunate stranger evaporated in an instant. Why? Because his reality seemed to mock me. Disapproval of the man's flaws, whatever they might be, cancelled out the genuine compassion I had felt initially. So it turns out to be all about me, not him at all.

This is my lesson to myself for Easter and Passover and Spring. Kindness, compassion, generosity, concern, are riches we possess and can give away freely, abundantly, spontaneously, without motive, without afterthought, without judgment, without expecting anything in return. Simply given away to float freely in the air, like apple blossoms floating to the ground.

The photo below is not of the man outside my local supermarket but it's not unlike him. It's one I took several years ago of a beggar in Paris.

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