This column will hit the streets the same day as Coast Union High School’s latest alumni are set free from the rigors of their secondary education. Now the real learning begins, in which these young folks will have to figure out what life really is all about, what is really important and, hopefully, create the existence they desire. I know it is not easy.
A few weeks ago, I had a phone conversation with my son — a Coast grad — and he’s in a place many 22-year-olds find themselves: wondering what they heck they’re doing with their life. His closest friends have moved back to Hawaii, and he’s got several questions, but he does have a job, and that is settling/grounding somewhat — for both of us.
The day after that phone call, driving down Main Street toward home, my head spun to take in a young man, talking to himself, looking a little worse for wear. He could easily have been my son with his dark hair, same age. I went home, made a sandwich, grabbed some apples and a clean blanket out of a trunk where I keep old, warm things. I went back downtown and parked near this traveller.
As a friend told me, my car can be somewhat of an icebreaker. Either that or I caught him in a good moment.
I approached calmly, “Hey, Brother, you doin’ OK?”
Surprise. “Uh, yeah.” Looks me over. Looks my car over.
“Well, I saw you and thought I’d come back with some food. It’s organic!”
Upon inspecting it, he responded, “Hmmm, looks like real stuff. Ummm, nah. No thanks.”
“I’ve had two.”
“I couldn’t help but notice you aren’t carrying any shelter. I’ve a good blanket here you could put over you or sit on or whatever you want.”
“Mmmm, no, that’s OK. I don’t think so.”
I was beginning to be frustrated by having my concerns thwarted. Just like dealing with my own kids sometimes. “What do you need?”
“Money! I could use some, you know, cashola.”
“Well, I don’t have any with me. What else?”
“Sweatpants! These I believe have seen better days. Maybe a hat?”
“OK, I’ll see what I can do.” I then craftily launched the personal attack. (Not like that! Of a concerned parent nature. You know: where are you from, where you headed, how old are you, what’s your name?)
“Do your folks know where you are? I realize you’re 25 but, if I were your mother, I’d at least want to know where you were?”
“Like I said, I have no reason to go back. And not all mothers have the same capacity as you do, apparently, to care that much. But thanks anyway.”
I remained stoic and calm in front of him and went in search of clothing … and to shed a little tear. I found at least two or three items he’d accept and a couple of dollars.
I have run into this fairly innocuous soul a few more times, tried to help, did find him some sweatpants eventually, and am letting go. He brought to light several things for me, which I think are appropriate to share around graduation time.
First, I cannot stop mothering. Second, while I was considering him to be irrational by not accepting my offers of help, whatever the mental state he is in is his reality. He was not begging me for assistance; it was I who thought “this is what he needs” — and this is not the first time or person I’ve done that to. Who am I to say?
Yes, it would have been the right thing for him, but I can’t make him. Let it go.
Finally, I am glad I am who I am, that I have no fear of the downtrodden (yes, I am cautious around agitated souls, wounded warriors of the road) and I’ve always encouraged others to be more compassionate.
You kids out there, but for the grace of Goddess go you … or I. This young man is somebody’s son, somebody’s brother. You have no clue what is going on in someone’s head and heart or what brought that person to this exact moment in space and time; we can’t possibly feel that.
Some cities are littered with drifters, and it can get exhausting, I realize. Some people may be dirty, smelly, seemingly perfectly able-bodied. Some may not want your gifts. They may seem ungrateful. But, offer those gifts anyway. Simply acknowledging people, making eye contact, asking their name — letting them know they exist — can make a positive shift in the universe. Remain calm in light of anger and outbursts. Compassion is a mighty diffuser.
You don’t have to take them home with you, spend hours with them, feed them filet mignon or even give them one red cent. Just send them love and be grateful for being who you are. This young man was a bit shocked when I reached down to hug him. He didn’t want to let go. For a moment, he was a bit more lucid, just for a moment. And then he faded away again.
So, seniors, your first lesson is to practice compassion. Compassion and empathy for any and all other beings on this planet, for you never know what may befall you next year, next month, the next moment. Good luck and much love to you all.