Moments Of Sharing And Deep Lessons With "strangers"
Posted by Maria Jain on Sep 16, 2017
About a month ago, I moved from Helsinki to New York City and recently, two places in particular have been landscapes of meaningful encounters for me.
The first one is a bench here in our neighborhood, under a concrete ledge of a building that houses a post office and a grocery store, and looks towards a small park and apartment buildings and behind them, the great flow of the East River. The second landscape is a Midtown Manhattan rooftop, in the hem of the Empire State Building herself.
As I walked one day in landscape #1, I was wished a blessed day by a man who sat there, in his hand a paper cup with some change in it. I smiled at him, took steps forward, then had the feeling that I should turn back. "Hey, how you doing, what are you listening to?", I asked, nodding towards the earphones he was wearing. A surprised look crossed his face. He pulled out the earphones. I sat down next to him as he began telling me he was grateful for the beautiful day, for the fact that he had woken up this morning. "Let me tell you something: many people didn't." He then went on to share some of his life story with me. That his name is Stan and he recently turned 63. That he had been violating his parole and was finally locked back up after he was found on the subway tracks, unconscious, with no ID in his pockets but his fingerprints revealed that he had an arrest warrant. That he spent a year more in the Rikers Island jail (check out www.closerikers.org) and was released with two choices: to go out on his own or to come to the rehab/nursing facility here. Raising his wrists he told me: "Knowing myself, I knew I'd likely end up in cuffs again if I walked out on my own."
So now, he enjoys daily walks and just watching pigeons, squirrels, people, trees. In the facility, he's been given new teeth, eyeglasses, and medication for his health conditions. "I got these jeans now, and clean socks!" His whole being seemed to smile as he lifted his legs a bit just to show me the glowing white socks in his sneakers. We spoke some more about gratitude, and he shared how, when he looks at others in the facility he stays at, his worries fall into some perspective: "There are guys without legs there. And I think my problems are big?"
"Go easy", Stan told me as we parted ways. "Thank you for listening, and I hope that what I said has some meaning because it came from the heart." I placed my hand on my chest before we fist-bumped, smiled and said goodbye.
That same evening, I was in landscape #2. I was invited to a party celebrating the centennial of my home country Finland, on that Midtown Manhattan rooftop. Early on, this man there kind of attached himself to my company. And he started talking. How he's been an investment banker. How he's produced music videos. How his name is still on TV. Dropping all these celeb names of folks he's worked with. I was astounded by the endless loop of self-talk. I found myself just being present and with curiosity witnessing this type of character. But the monologue flowed on for quite a while and a friend even dropped by to see if "an intervention" was needed. Eventually, I did find a way out and slipped out of the whole party early anyway.
When I got home, I found myself feeling really bad. Almost violated somehow. I was angry at myself for not putting up my boundaries, how come I had let this person use me for what sounded like self-aggrandisement, how come I had not spoken up or something. I went to sleep feeling like I had consumed something spoiled.
The next morning brought insight. Where Stan's talk had come from the heart, I realised that the evening man's talk had come from somewhere else. I felt that it was probably the symptom of much of the stuff that's wrong with this place -- with our world -- and its dominant paradigm (a paradigm that, I believe, is on its way out and in its death-throes). The constant need to prove oneself, the devastating fear of being insufficient, of not "making it". Some sense of compassion replaced the toxicity within me. But also the understanding that next time, it's ok to express and honour my boundaries.
Thanks for reading. Loving greetings from New York City. Right where we all are is the most fertile ground for practice. I'd love to hear any of your thoughts that may arise, about finding these meaningful nooks of engaging with fellow beings, reflections about boundaries etc.
And if you're in New York, send me a note. Let's find a meaningful nook in time and space.