April 2, 2015

Talking to Strangers: Putting Feelings Aside & Doing the Right Thing in the Moment.


I used to love to go to rummage sales and I had shown up early one morning for one of my favorites at the Newman Center on campus.

I put my box down in line to mark my spot, headed over to a nearby Ramada to get out of the already blistering Tucson sun, and sat down at the picnic table to wait.

“Geez, I love rummage sales,” I said to a woman sitting at the table.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she said, laughing. “I volunteered yesterday to help out and here I am back today,” and I told her I understood completely.

The woman’s shiny braids had grown far away from their parts, leaving several inches of scalp showing. She had a round face, deep brown eyes and a generous body. She was comfortable sitting there waiting in her red t-shirt with her three children sitting quietly around her.

The two biggest kids were munching on bagels and I watched as the littlest girl nagged her older brother if she could have a just a tiny piece to feed the birds, but he shrugged her off several times.

“Nah, I don’t feel like it,” he said.

Finally, the mother intervened.

“Go on now. Give her a piece. It won’t hurt you to share.”

The boy shrugged his shoulders again.

“Besides, your feelings don’t matter. It’s what you do that matters. We can talk about your feelings later, right now, do the right thing and share.”

The little girl slid onto her mother’s lap, staring at the morsel of bagel she’d put down for the bird. Sure enough, a wren waddled over to it, pecked at it, dropped it, pecked at it again, and with the tiny white bit of bagel in its beak flapped off to the relative safety of a nearby brick wall.

As things go, the brother started tearing off crumb-sized pieces of his bagel and he and his little sister both ended up feeding them to the birds together.

Just then I noticed a woman I had seen at many rummage sales walking up on the glaring, un-shaded sidewalk just the other side of the Ramada. In each hand she was carrying the “walking canes” she always carried but, as usual it didn’t appear that she really needed them. She wasn’t putting any weight on them, she wasn’t limping, wasn’t off balance and was just waving them a few inches above the ground in front of her before dabbing them onto the sidewalk with each step.

She headed directly over to where I was sitting at the table.

“Does anybody know if there’s stairs in there?” She asked as she sat down and nodded towards the entrance of the sale. “I can’t take stairs.”

I gave the cane-lady a sideways glance. The first time I saw her I had taken an immediate aversion to her and always felt as if she were trying to get compassion under false pretenses. I didn’t believe she really needed her canes and resentfully thought they were just a ploy for attention.

The generous mom moved over a bit to make room for her but there wasn’t quite enough room on that side of the table.

Internally I squirmed at my judgment of the cane-lady.

Why did I hate that poor lady so much? What had she ever done to me?

I watched as the generous mom told the cane-lady that yes, there were stairs inside, but that there was also a lot of stuff upstairs for sale as well.

The generous mom had said, “Your feelings don’t matter. It’s what you do that matters. Do the right thing now.”

I picked up my purse and moved over on my bench, making room for the cane-lady.

“I can’t take stairs,” she said, sitting on the edge of the bench.

“I think there’s actually an elevator,” I told her. “It’s around back. I can show you where it is when we get inside.”

I felt an opening in my heart.

How many times had I had this knee-jerk aversion to people? How many times had I negatively judged them because of the way they looked or the way they dressed or the way they parted their hair for crying out loud.
This little scene that played out in the Ramada while waiting for the rummage sale and the lessons I learned from the two “teachers” there—the generous mother and the cane-lady—have stayed with me all these 15 years.

First of all, I learned that my feelings don’t matter in the moment. I could always talk about them later or journal about them or, as my meditation teacher used to say, “Take them to the cushion to extinguish them.”
And second of all, I learned that by putting my feelings aside, I could extinguish them in that very moment by just doing the right thing.

I am grateful for the lessons that life holds out to us on a daily basis.

Who woulda’ thought they would sell them at rummage sales?

“My request today is simple. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Find somebody, anybody, that’s different than you. Somebody that has made you feel ill-will or even hateful. Somebody whose life decisions have made you uncomfortable. Somebody who practices a different religion than you do. Somebody who has been lost to addiction. Somebody with a criminal past. Somebody who dresses “below” you. Somebody with disabilities. Somebody who lives an alternative lifestyle. Somebody without a home.

Somebody that you, until now, would always avoid, always look down on, and always be disgusted by.

Reach your arm out and put it around them.

And then, tell them they’re all right. Tell them they have a friend. Tell them you love them.

If you or I wanna make a change in this world, that’s where we’re gonna be able to do it. That’s where we’ll start.

Every. Single. Time.”

~ Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing



“Generosity is the Virtue that Produces Peace.”


Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikimedia


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