The past couple of days I have felt very open to emotional experience and very willing to love. I worked in a very hectic pharmacy yesterday, and with a pharmacist who had a somewhat bad reputation within the company.
She was obsessive, eccentric, intellectually-preocuppied, highly methodical and certainly neurotic. But she was also intensely likeable. In her processes, she went above and beyond the necessary protocol and took pride in this. She reeled off to me her whole spiel for giving flu vaccinations which went on forever. But I could tell, as she asked if I wanted to hear it and barely waited for my affirmative response, that she was seeking validation and attention. I saw her in the way a parent sees a child performing at a talent show, hoping to make them proud. There was something about her that melted my heart. I liked her.
And even though the shop was a mess and I found myself sighing intermittently throughout the day at the sheer weight of the workload, I enjoyed myself. The two people I worked with were stretching themselves so thin. I was struck by their dedication and felt full of compassion. No cups of tea in the morning like I am used to – I was the only one who stopped regularly to hydrate myself.
Around midday, I announced that I knew we were very busy but that I was putting on the kettle for staff morale and that I’d make them tea and coffee. Rather than the pharmacist being irate at my slacking off, she said: “Aw great, you can come back!” They didn’t feel as if they could justify stopping for 1 minute of the day to have a cup of tea, maybe they felt they didn’t deserve it. I felt they did.
And when I nipped to the shop to pick up some more milk, I got them some pastries as well. “Is this because you feel like we’re too stressed out and we need something to cheer us up?” the pharmacist asked me and I sensed interrogation in her tone. I answered back with a resounding yes and a smile.
I don’t know why working here had such an impact on me. Maybe at the very beginning of my pharmacy career, the whole thing would’ve freaked me out. I would’ve felt oppressed by the pharmacist’s endless rules and demands, isolated by the dispenser’s stand-offishness. But having worked in these scenarios before, I just saw two people trying their fucking hardest to deal with an impossible situation and thought the best of them. And in response, they slowly opened up to me, acknowledged their gratitude for my hard work and experience and made me feel welcome.
After work, I headed to the supermarket to pick up a few things. Walking, I turned the corner leading up to the entrance and saw a bright rainbow splashed across the sky. It had started to rain one of those urgent, acute showers and the sky was grey and bright, lit up by this rainbow. It took me by such surprise that I stopped and said “wow”, smiling – awestruck like a child.
Shortly after this I noticed a man sitting on the ground opposite the entrance, a tinfoil blanket draped over his crossed legs, an umbrella propped up to cover his head. Seeing this so soon after the vibrant rainbow crushed me and I started to cry. At the unfairness, the social injustice, the cruelness of the world. I’ve been feeling so existential lately, this image just affirmed everything I hate about the world; which is why I think it caused me to cry so hard.
The contrast between the two felt like such a striking analogy for life. So filled with beauty, so filled with pain.
There’s a certain expression and demeanour that some beggars have when they’re outside in the rain. A heartbreaking humility and humbleness, an acceptance of all that is – a surrender seems to engulf them. As it would anyone. God it crushes me.
In my open state, I quickly resolved to buy this man a small care package of food and to sit next to him if he’d let me and chat to him after I’d done my shopping. I felt so emotional and scattered, I struggled to think what the right thing to buy would be.
A friend of mine I met while at university in Glasgow had conducted a social project to illuminate the lives of homeless people and assist them. It involved giving these homeless people journals to write about their experiences. One particular line stuck in my head which he read to me: “They give me food I cannot eat”. A comment on how sometimes homeless people are inundated with food donations but not much else, to the point where it can go to waste. With this in mind, I cursed myself for not asking him first what it is he needed – but I was too embarrassed. I didn’t want to emasculate him, make him feel small.
Looking around the supermarket, I kept breaking out into silent sobs, partially concealed by my mask. I felt like I was living in a dystopia. I felt upset that I wouldn’t be able to offer as much as I’d like to. Remembering a chapter about lack and abundance from the book Conversations With God, I reminded myself that focusing on my lack would only attract more of it and if I felt that I could contribute and help then I should do so willingly and with confidence.
Nearing the end of my shopping list, my heart started to beat faster and I utilised breathing exercises to calm it. I was so nervous about asking this stranger if I could sit down next to him and chat. I hadn’t done this before. I line from a passage of writing popularised by Mother Theresa comforted me:
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway. – https://www.prayerfoundation.org/mother_teresa_do_it_anyway.htm
If I am conducting myself in alignment with my highest values, the specific outcomes of my behaviours or perceptions of myself by others do not matter. It is between me and God (or my higher self).
So I did it, I sat down next to him on the wet ground, somewhat disconnected from my body and uncaring about whether my ass would get wet. I gestured towards the bag of food and handed him a cup of coffee I got from the Costa stand. He was grateful, checking: “Is this all for me?”
One of the things I bought was a scratchcard, just to get change back to donate for a book sitting on a charity stand so I could give the man something to read, too. He seemed happy about the book which was a relief. I forgot to take the scratchcard out and I saw his eyes light up when he saw it in the bag. “Aw, a scratchcard as well!” he exclaimed. I felt stupid for not having realised that he would appreciate that for himself, too.
After feeling a bit embarrassed and apologising for the fact that what I gave him might not be any use, that he might not like any of it, I asked him how his day had been. We talked about the weather. I mentioned how it was getting colder but that right now it was milder than usual. “Yeah, because of the rain”, he mentioned – which had actually stopped by this point.
It made me think of how people who work outside, spend time in nature – or in his case beg on the street – have this rare wisdom about the weather and the changing seasons.
I got the impression that he didn’t want to have any heartful or prolonged discussions so I briefly apologised for intruding on him and made my way home. He asked my name as I rose and thanked me. When I was a few metres away he shouted “thanks” at me again.
I partly feel a bit embarrassed for having written about this. There are two main reasons I have:
- Embarrassment and anxiety are two major contributing factors for people not speaking to beggars. This is an example of overcoming this. You could, too.
- I am a creative person. Quite often when I’m going about my daily life, I think: “I could write/sing about this”. That doesn’t necessarily make me egotistical or conceited. It just makes me a creative. This is something I ought to be proud of.
Thanks for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx