I am not what they call a religious man but l am interested in psychological and spiritual concepts. Although I was raised Catholic, I quit going to Mass as a teenager; nevertheless, I had the following experience:
I was moving out of my apartment one chilly night and had all my stuff in my Honda Civic. I decided to go to Taco Bell to eat and I park outside on the street. There I noticed a homeless man trying to sleep on the city sidewalk. Well, I didn’t take much notice because there are homeless people all over San Francisco. In fact, I’d heard that San Fran is the Mecca of The United States for the homeless. Anyway, I got out of my car, walked past this man, and went inside to eat. I do not remember but probably I ate like a pig. In my family, I am known as a notoriously big eater.
I came out about fifteen minutes later and saw that the homeless person was still lying on the cold hard cement. He was motionless, and so I assumed that he had somehow managed to fall asleep. I was not paying him much positive attention. I was likely thinking along the lines of “too bad for you dude. Glad it’s you and not me. It’s just not my problem. See ya later.”
So I got into my car, but before I could start the engine, I looked through the passenger’s window over my blanket toward the desolated man. Then the thought came to me that I could give him my blanket. But another thought came right on the heels of that first thought: I don’t want to give this homeless guy just so that He could see what I would do.
This was an unusual idea, period, but even more so for me, because even though I had grown up Catholic, I did not consciously give Jesus much thought at that time. Now all of a sudden I felt as if I were on trial. But still, I dug my feet in and I found myself raising my voice to God of all people, saying, “No, I don’t want to give away my blanket. I’ve only got one.” (Looks like I need to fire my psychotherapist). By then it seemed so real that I felt as if my soul was on trial and I really started to experience a powerful tug of war going on within myself. Finally, I said “Okay, okay, I’ll give him my blanket, but only if there isn’t anybody around who might see me. You see, unfortunately, l spend too much time worrying about what other people think. The famous ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Care about what other people think and you are their prisoner.” If this is true then I will probably end up serving a life sentence in a straight jacket on death row! The only time I was able to push that type of thinking aside was not due to any psychotherapy I took part in but when I had hit a very low psychological bottom in college, which forced me to send out a desperate SOS to a power greater than myself (This is another story in itself for another day).
Anyway, I saw no one around and so I got out with my folded blanket and walked around the back of my car towards this guy who didn’t see me coming. I got up to his feet, saw that he was facing down and automatically popped open the blanket over him. It unfolded and floated down perfectly. When the blanket reached him, I surprisingly got the feeling that this was the most natural thing I could be doing for my brother!
Once the blanket was in place I rushed back to my car and got in. Then I noticed the guy moving under his blanket and him getting up on one elbow, trying to look around and figure out where the hell this blanket had come from. Well, the last thing I wanted to do was to interact with this guy. Again, my therapy is found lacking, maybe carving soap bars would have been more therapeutic, and so I prepared to split. My car had a stick shift and so I popped the clutch, but too fast. The car stalled and I was stopped in my tracks in my getaway. Now, this guy started to sit up, yet I finally but disdainfully made my way out of there.
Suddenly, amazingly, a minute later I had a powerful experience as I was driving toward the San Francisco Bay down Van Ness Avenue. I felt from top to bottom a wave of joy pour over me like a silent waterfall and I started to laugh. Then, because I am so possessive, I wondered, “Have I ever before even given anything away unconditionally”? Then, out of the blue, a wave of sadness too descended over me and my heart opened. In that holy moment, I felt compassion, and I found myself not just caring for this man but all the homeless in the city and I started crying because I knew that there are probably hundreds of other homeless “brothers” in the city and there was nothing at that moment that I could do for them. I am not sure how to categorize this but thinking back on it, it looks like then my heart only had room for a city of homeless people, nothing more nothing less.
Wow, what a complete turnaround in the way I had been feeling just ten minutes earlier! Then, the joy and the sadness started to take turns equally intense until I was laughing and crying at the same time. I am lucky that I did not run off the road. An odd and rare experience indeed but I was renewed and rehumanized. Curiously enough, I was still blessed by this event, even though my initial motivation for giving the blanket was not completely pure. I mean, at first, I gave the blanket so as not to fall from grace with God but later that did turn into concern for the man on the street. It seems the expression “God works in mysterious ways” is wise. However, I think it can go deeper than that. A mystic once said, and I am paraphrasing, “God can very well be loved but not thought.” This says to me that to understand God is beyond my human intellect, just as it would be beyond a duck’s capacity to understand the makeup and workings of a human being. “Aflac!”
Yet what I can do is connect with God and have an understanding of Him through my heart. I can relate because that has been true in my case. When something touches me and moves me to tears is when I feel the closest to God. Recently I was reading that when someone feels compassion for someone else, the one being pitied ironically becomes “the savior.” The act of feeling compassion opens one’s heart and then is saved from their own isolation and separateness. For me, I hadn’t even known that I had a “brother or sister” on that level, or that I’d felt isolated or separate from them. Normally during my daily life, I do not feel this “soul connection” with people. I am less human because of that fact. But back on that chilly summer night in San Francisco little did I know that giving away my blankie to “my bro” would have propelled me into a metaphysical realization that everybody on this planet belongs to just one big family: The Human Race.
In hindsight, I thought the timing of this metaphysical reality breaking through was interesting. It happened not at the time I had been thinking holy thoughts but the quantum leap occurred when I was doing something helpful out in the world. Actions do speak louder than words or thoughts. Furthermore, the importance and the impact of the experience wasn’t that I had performed a loving act of kindness, but rather, what the loving act of kindness had done to me! This calls to mind another very old truism that fits here which is: “It’s better to give than to receive!” Most of these truisms are so old no one remembers who said it first? Here is one I made up? “There is nothing new under the sun.” Wait! What? Someone already made that one up? So it goes to show you it must be true too then!
This whole event came about when I had imagined the impossible, that this homeless man was Jesus incognito, which is funny because I’m just seeing for the first time the connection that gods impersonating humans is an ancient, common mythological theme. Plus, although Jesus in my story was incognito when he appeared The Bible states that after being crucified Jesus visited the land of the living many times. One example is in Luke 24:15 soon after Jesus’ crucifixion, a grieving Cleopas, a follower of Jesus, found himself amazingly walking with Christ, who was supposed to be dead, on a dirt road. For those who are interested in the theme of the departed making visitations in the realm of the living, there is a popular book called Parting Visions by Dr. Melvin Morse.
Today I am blessed and so fortunate to have had that experience. Yet, my only regret is I did not stay to interact with the man I gave my blanket to. Even so, experiencing being on a deep level intimately connected to The Human Race is now not just an abstract theory. Now there is a knowledge of it first hand which breathes life into it. It’s like I would rather feel the sun on my skin than just reading about it in a book. How golden is that! I am moved as I write, Thank you Lord for being patient, and for caring and loving me unconditionally and each time I do feel Your patient loving care it feels like a homecoming!