Posted July 1, 2012
Waking up in the morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment. And to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
In May, the Center for Courage & Renewal moved its "headquarters" from the sleepy little town of Winslow located on Bainbridge Island, to downtown Seattle. Now instead of a ten-minute drive to work, my commute involves a 35-minute ferry ride and a 15-minute walk through the city.
As my fellow commuters and I descend upon Seattle from the ferry in the early morning, we are (for the most part) a group of workers single-mindedly heading towards our jobs. The thing that stands out most to me is that we are journeying somewhere with purpose and a destination in mind. But as I begin my walk to the office, I become very aware of those people on the street who are not moving. They are stationary and rooted to the sidewalk. Their faces stay with me all day.
Seattle has a pretty large homeless population and it seems to be growing by the day. Since I am now in the city a lot more than I've been the past 19 years, I am not able to ignore the people I see every morning, and I wonder about their stories for, as we know, we all have stories.
Every day, I see the man at the corner of 1st and Marion with the big "Smile" sign, and not only do I smile, but I want to know more about how he came to be where he is. I see the toothless, legless man in a wheelchair down by Pike Place Market and I wonder where he came from, and how he lost his legs. I see the pregnant woman with the haunting eyes and an outstretched hand, and I wonder what makes her heart sing. You see, I think by knowing people's stories, we have more compassion for them and less judgment of them.
Since I work for an organization that is so grounded in matters of the heart, my walks in the city are challenging me to bear "more gracefully the responsibilities that come with being human," as Parker wrote in Let Your Life Speak. How this manifests itself will vary from person to person, and probably from day to day. But for me, I am trying to make eye contact, to smile, to buy the homeless newspaper "Real Change" and most of all to acknowledge and see the people on the street. We want to be noticed for who we really are, and not for what we may appear to be. Stereotypes abound in our perceptions of homeless people, and yet each person has a unique story and deserves to be noticed. After all, isn't that what we all want at life's most basic level?
Note: Robin Gaphni has worked at the Center for Courage & Renewal since 1998 and currently serves as the Program Manager/Registrar. She also writes a blog called Grief & Gratitude.