Tonight I had dinner with a friend and as I was walking to the train station I came across a homeless man sleeping on the ground, in a dirty sleeping bag. I felt a pang in my heart, a sudden adrenaline rush. Almost the same sensation one gets when being in danger or needing to make a sudden life or death decision. I just wanted to feed him. He had no shelter, no food, no one to keep him company. I think in most cases people would feel removed from the situation, then try to empathize momentarily and cover it up by a sense of gratitude, a “Thank God” for all I have. I felt none of that. I just wanted to feed him. I felt his lack, his pain, his need in my bones. It was raining. I had on a rain jacket and he had nothing but his dirty sleeping bag and a half empty bottle of water.
I set my belongings on the ground, pulled everything out of my bag and gathered some food to offer him. All I could find was a banana, an apple and some spinach (I didn’t make my smoothie at work today b/c I was super busy and decided to wait). I had some tomatoes and a bag of Sea Salt Kettle chips my friend gave me. I placed them next to his head and he opened his eyes just enough to say “Bless You.” I felt humbled. My eyes just filled with tears b/c I knew I couldn’t help him out.
There is so much suffering around us and we don’t even stop to acknowledge it. I’m on my way home to a cozy warm bed and a fridge full of nutritious food. I have warm water to shower with and clean clothes to change into. I understood something tonight: Sympathy is not compassion. Feeling sorry for someone and using that to leverage gratitude for what one has is not selflessness. That’s finding an emotional antidote to remove us from the pain and suffering of another. Compassion is feeling someone’s pain, allowing it to take over and change you, even for a moment. Only then do we connect truly, only then do we transform. I believe that this fleeting transaction was more than me leaving food on the concrete for a helpless man sleeping in the rain. It was a deep understanding of self. I felt not only my human quality but his as well, on a deep and unified level. Sometimes there is no giver and no receiver. It’s just energy connecting to its source.