by Julie Nadler
“I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
For the last day or two I had been very conscious of my losses because of the pandemic. I’ve been grumpy.
I miss boozy dinners & lunches out with friends. I have not seen my brother, David, living in Nova Scotia, in real space for a year now. I did not have the chance to say good-bye to a dear colleague, Martha, who died in March. I did not get to celebrate…fully celebrate with lots of wine and dancing and hugs… my 70th birthday. I was unable to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of a dear student, Aileen.
I miss meditating in a group and listening to the dharma talk…. live & in person…with Pascal as our guide. I miss retreats.
I will not be able to go to Heidi’s fabulous annual Christmas party this year.
I am tired of physically tiptoeing around social contacts. And some of my husband’s interests are beginning to annoy me as, no doubt, mine annoy him. Winter is coming, I do not like the cold, and I am having a hard time putting a ‘happy’ face on it.
Let us be honest, it has been more like weeks than days. Maybe even a month. And the grumpiness was turning to belligerent anger. Triggered easily. At myself as well as others.
Then yesterday, something happened.
We were coming home from our weekly grocery shop at Loblaws on St Jacques and a re-stock of renovation materials at Reno depot. We decided to get some bread and tea-time treats at Snowden Bakery on Harley Street in Montreal West. Sitting outside in a light jacket was a young woman with a ‘begging cup’ in front of herself. It was a cold & windy afternoon.
My initial instinct with itinerant people is to give them a sincere smile and walk on. I give Chez Doris and other such organizations as much financial help as I can, so I feel justified in not doing anything in a case to case situation. I also worry about where the money might go to. It might go to something harmful and I do not want that on my Karmic conscience. I know that sometimes helping is not helping.
But there was something about her and I said to Malcolm as we were sanitizing our hands, going into the bakery, “We’re going to be seeing a lot more of that. These are really hard times for many.”
She touched me.
I broke my rule. I gave her some money, but I also bought her a cinnamon danish. It was the danish that did me in. She thanked us but set it aside. I admit that I was disappointed she did not seem that happy about my offering. But then I looked back from the car and she was hungrily scoffing it down. Pride. I could have cried. Hungry and cold. Alone and probably scared.
On the way home I said to Malcolm, “We are so lucky. We have so much.”
I didn’t even ask for her name. I should have done that. But there’s a fear of personalizing. If we personalize, we may feel empathy. And if we feel empathy, we must act. Distancing is not a new thing for us.
So, I am not going to gripe anymore. I am not going to complain. And I am going to make it a practice to carry food on me…maybe some granola bars…and give them out wherever I can.
But is there more I can do? This haunts me. Some might say I did enough. Or that we are not responsible for others. But I have been reminded sharply by this incident that we are all responsible for all of us. Metta meditation says: “may all beings be safe, may all beings be healthy, may all beings be at ease, may all beings be happy.”
And can any of us really be safe or healthy or at ease or happy unless all are?