A crippled angel taught me a hard and precious lesson this morning. Carolyn and I were walking toward the Madrid cathedral when a badly crippled beggar, his mind a bit addled by his traumatic life, held out a cup for money. I only had 20 cents in my pocket and I dropped them into his cup. He took one look and went ballistic. He got right in Carolyn’s face and yelled “Por que? Por que tan poco dinero?” (Why so little money?!!?) He scared me badly, and my husbandly conditioning prompted me to feel protective toward Carolyn. My heart closed, and with a stone face I fairly yelled back “Es todo lo que tengo!” (It is all I have). He continued to shout, attracting a crowd. Just then a lovely woman of about 60 came up behind us. “Calmate, probrecito,” (be clam, poor fellow) she said, and dropped some money in his cup. The young man’s anger was immediately diffused, and Carolyn and I moved on with shaken hearts.
We sat on a bench in the sun for a long time, feeling, and thinking, and talking about what had happened and about our fearful and closed response. It seemed to me that the young man and the older woman were sacred gifts–he to challenge us, and she to show us the power of caring and empathy.
About three hours later, with a pocket full of change and more open hearts, we passed the young man again. He held out his cup. We both dropped in an amount we thought appropriate, and I said “Bendiciones y buena suerte, hermano mio.” (blessings and good luck, my brother). He looked me in the eye and gave me the sweetest of smiles: a gift far beyond money. “Gracias, senor,” he said from a deep place.
Those two angels this morning taught me again the deep truth in this famous poem of Rumi:
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.