His southern accent filled my ears as I walked up the Harbor Steps of downtown Seattle. I was heading home alone after a spontaneous evening with friends. It was 1am.
I can't count how many times I've heard that same question 'Will you help me?' living in a city where homelessness is high. Counting is sometimes arbitrary, sometimes powerful. I suppose it depends on who's counting what to determine if it counts or not.
What counted for me in that moment was the feeling beneath the question. Something deep within me urged to listen. So I turned around.
"What do you need help with?"
At first glance I saw a 30-something homeless black man. The longer I looked I noticed a spark in his eyes. I felt safe.
"Well ma'am, you see I'm trying to stay at the Bread of Life shelter tonight. It's $20 for a bed. But anything helps."
I had a $20. And I had curiosity.
"What's your name?"
"I'm Em. I'll help you get a bed. Will you help me too?"
"Will you share your story?"
"Sure Em. Well let's see...I grew up in Louisiana. I was abused a lot as a kid and then I began to hear voices. Those voices told me to do bad things. One day the bad voices told me to burn down a house and I didn't want to listen to them anymore. That's when I found God. Or God found me. Not sure which but just glad it happened. The bad voices are gone now. And even though I'm homeless, now that I found God I feel at home."
Wow. This shit just got real, real fast. I listened on as we climbed up the steps.
"You see Em, even though I'm black and you're white and I'm homeless and you're not we're all the same in the house of God. Those differences don't matter. What matters is God is love and love doesn't judge."
I knew Lorenzo wasn't talking religion here. And my heart was cracking open with this impeccable Truth. The message was clear: God is Love. Love doesn't judge.
I allowed this Truth to sink in.
"Lorenzo, do you want a cigarette?"
"Well I don't actually have any, but we can go to a store?"
Honestly, I wanted both the excuse to listen to Lorenzo longer and I had a sudden craving for the nicotine buzz. I've been in a longterm love/hate relationship with cigarettes. As a yoga teacher who used work for the No Stank You campaign, smoking has quite the stigma. But every once in a while I crave the vice even though I usually regret it right after. Remember: Love doesn't judge.
"I know a store that's still open Em. Follow me."
And down the streets we walked. I still felt totally safe.
On our way to Pioneer Square we bumped into Lorenzo's friend. Michelle was a black woman in her 40s. She was carrying a pizza box.
"Nice to meet ya Em! Want some pizza? It's hot!"
A tiny voice in my head said 'you shouldn't eat her pizza because she's homeless and needs it more than you do'. Then a louder voice said 'accept Michelle's food as you would from a friend'. So I did. And it was delicious.
I thanked Michelle for her generosity. Then she embraced me and buried my head in her large chest and rocked me like a child. She reminded me of Amma, the hugging saint.
"Em, we are sisters. We need to feed each other."
My heart exploded. Something about being held and fed by a 'stranger' melted any resistance I may have been consciously or unconsciously carrying. I began to weep in Michelle's chest and I muttered 'thank you' and 'I love you'. When I came up for air I met her eyes. I saw the same spark.
That's when I realized, the Saints are on the streets.
Eventually Lorenzo and I made it to the store. During our not-so-satisfying smoke, I noticed he was shivering in his T-Shirt.
"Do you have anything warm to wear?"
"No not right now. But that's ok because the shelter's warm."
"I'm pretty sure I have an extra sweatshirt in my car. Wanna walk me there?"
Luckily I did.
"Hope this fits. This sweatshirt was given to me from my friend Abria. It has a super special meaning to me, and now it belongs to you."
"Em it's perfect. Why's it so special?"
"It represents yoga. And yoga is one way I found God, or Love. Before yoga I heard bad voices in my head too. Telling me violent things about myself."
"You see Em, we're not that different."
"Yeah I see that Lorenzo. Hey do you mind I take a picture of you? I'd love to share your story if that's ok?"
"Of course Em."
And now for the current truth: according to our current societal systems, Lorenzo, Michelle and I are treated very different.
I'm white, and Lorenzo and Michelle are black. Adjusting my previous lens of Unity Consciousness to focusing in on what's happening right here right now in the streets of Seattle is a big fucking wake up call for me.
According to the NAACP, African Americans make up around 7 percent of Seattle's population -- but account for 41 percent of people in emergency shelters for the homeless. (http://kuow.org/post/seattle-homeless-crisis-naacp-says-plan-must-look-race)
Allow that truth to sink in.
Now is the time to wake up to the stark differences that are underlying the right to survive, live and thrive in this system for Lorenzo and Michelle and the other 41%.
How do I/you/we shift this current truth of racial inequity to the greater Truth of Love?
I believe it begins with owning what's real for me/you/us. Acknowledging what is true right here, right now. And then we will all be asking the same question Lorenzo asked:
"Will you help me?"
Will you help me see my white privilege? Will you help me see your disadvantages as a black person? Will you help me understand when I say something that upsets you? Or when I do something that upsets you? Will I help you the same? Will you help me when I'm unclear? Will I help you when you're unclear?
It's a choice. Lorenzo didn't ask 'can you help me'. He asked will. Will has power.
If I/you/we will it to help each other by shamelessly sharing our own truths, then we will begin to see with real eyes.
I believe when we safely and honestly share what our different perspectives are, then we will move beyond differences and understand the greater Truth where differences are indifferent. Where we see the spark in each other's eyes. When we will be real, beyond judgements of what's good or bad, then we will truly attain real-eyes-ation. Then we will evolve into a Real-Eyes-Nation.
Waking up is uncomfortable. And now is the time for me to. Will you help me see?
Please share your insights.