One Small Moment

Walking to vote this morning, I was ruminating about the tensions of this mid-term election cycle, feeling gloomy about the anger and hate blanketing this country. As I neared my polling location, I looked up and saw three homeless men standing on the corner. Oh yuck,I thought. Just what I need when I’m already feeling so discouraged.

Berkeley is struggling with homelessness.  We have been for quite some time.  But so far we haven’t come up with any successful remedies, and the collections of tents and piles of trash continue to grow.

Homelessness is a thorny issue.  Yes, I don’t like the messes, the clots of ragged people standing around, some of whom rail at passers-by. I’ve heard people say they avoid downtown Berkeley these days.  One friend was walking to the movies, when a hand reached out from a pile near a corner and grabbed her ankle.  The friend never made it to the theatre.

At the same time, I want to take care of all the people who struggle with mental illness and extreme poverty.  I want them to have food and medical care and a safe place to sleep.   I want them to have the best quality of life they can accept.  I want them to thrive.

Seeing the three men on the corner this morning intensified my sadness, and upped my tension around this election.

As I approached the corner, I took a deep breath and tried to soften my expression.

“Good day, Madame,” I suddenly heard.  Jolted out of my gloom, I looked up.  One of the men had a small harp in his lap.  He wasn’t playing, but he was holding it tenderly.  The man who had greeted me was bowing.

“Good day to you,” I said, and turned the corner.

“Hey, I love your hairs,” I heard, just as I was about to round the corner and walk on.

“Why thank you so much,” I said, stopping and turning to face the group.  “I really appreciate the compliment.”

And I did.

In one small moment I had been proved wrong—my anticipation way off course—and my mood had shifted.  It felt lovely to receive that compliment, especially from a man who lived on the streets.  After all, he had plenty of other things to think about, and he had nothing to gain from me.  He wasn’t asking for a handout or a favor.  He gave his kind words freely, not in hopes of a reward, but because he really did like my hair.

One small moment, and the world looked very different to me.



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