June 26, 2011

Just Because I’m a Spoiled Middle Class White Girl Doesn’t Mean I Have to Act Like One.

Yoga Lessons from the Man Living in a Parking Garage.

Full disclosure: I’m ashamed of myself. I’m embarrassed of the way I have acted. I have ignored, snubbed, looked down on, and made people uncomfortable by letting my fear and discomfort take over. Please don’t sit by me. Please don’t approach me. I don’t want to face your reality. I’ll get up and move if you do. I’ll plug my iPod into my ears, hunch my shoulders up, pull up a hood or a scarf, look out the window, walk on by.

I used to be the one my high school friends made fun of for always giving money when asked on the street. When did I stop doing that? When I started to think they were right. When I started to doubt that feeling in my heart that said a couple bucks from me—it didn’t matter what they spent it on—was worth so much more than that to them. When I started to doubt the certainty that below their aggressive front was pain. It began to seem easier to ignore, to walk on by. It began to seem easier to harden.

It’s not. It hurts. Whatever we do to another, we do to ourselves. If we can’t see ourselves in all, we can’t see ourselves at all.

I have some new friends who embody this—who understand and demonstrate the yogic concept of union and Namaste: light in me sees light in you—even though others might not define them as yogis. There are reasons they came into my life.

The other day I got on the bus and headed to the back row of seats. A man who looked just a few years older than me got on, too, and sat down beside me. He gave me space, sitting in the middle of the two seats beside me, instead of snugging right up. He smelled pretty bad. He had a nice face. I opened my purse, put on my sunglasses, reached in for my iPod. He looked towards my searching hand and asked me something I didn’t hear properly.

“Pardon me?” I asked.

“Do you have a shotgun in there to put me out of my misery?” He replied.

“Oh. Oh. No, I don’t.”

“No, no, I’m sorry. Don’t mind me. I’m the village idiot, thanks for your vote.”

“It’s okay, really.”

“Those are nice sunglasses.”

“Thank you.”

“I like your runners. Do you run in them?”

“Thanks, yup, I do.”

“I just have these ones, Nikes, but they’re comfortable.”

“That’s a good thing. It’s important for them to be comfortable.”

“Sorry if I’m bothering you. Sorry.”

“No, really, it’s okay. Really. You’re not.”

He went on to tell me he was only going to be on the bus for a couple more stops, that he would get off at the internet café where he used the web camera to connect with his sister and niece and nephew. “They worry about me,” he said with a sigh. Then he would find a way to wash his work clothes. He was wearing cotton pants and a Vancouver Canucks T-shirt. After that, he would go home to the parking garage he shared with a few other men and watch a movie. He told me local media had been by recently to interview them. Someone else got on the bus, and came to sit on his other side. He had to squeeze closer to me. “I’m sorry,” he said to me, “just one more stop.” It didn’t matter how many times I told him it was okay. He had been through it all before. I began to feel my heart cracking, tears welling up behind my eyes. I wanted to wrap him in a hug.

And I began to imagine what it would be like to incite dismay or even disgust by simply getting on a bus. I don’t just take a warm welcome for granted, I unconsciously depend on it. I am spoiled. I am a lucky one. And to varying degrees, so is everyone else on that bus. Everyone else who grimaced, plugging ear buds into their ears, hunching up shoulders, pulling up hoods, looking away. Please don’t sit by me. I don’t want to face your reality. I don’t want to be that way anymore. I don’t want to let fear and ignorance dictate my actions.

I did a Google search when I got home. Vinchenzo’s pregnant wife was killed by a drunk driver five years ago. The pain of being without her is too hard to handle indoors.

There are some of you reading this who already knew that would be his story—or that something like that would be. I’m writing this for those who didn’t. I’m writing this for those who, like me, one day decided it was easier to harden than to feel the pain, or who were taught to be that way. I’m writing this for those who, like me, needed to be reminded that what we do to others we do to ourselves. And that if we can’t see our selves in all, we can’t see our selves at all.

With humble love, and thanks for reading,


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