Friday, March 16, 2012

Breaking Down Barriers

I'm blessed to work in a place of miracles: COTS, an agency that serves the homeless in Petaluma. I have so much to learn, and recently I was taught a lesson about being open to experience beauty in unexpected places.

Nearly every day at work I walked right past a woman who regularly waited in line for our daily lunches. She was almost always the first one there, arriving quite early to stake out her usual spot.

She sat hunched over, knees pulled into her chest, staring straight ahead. Her hair was disheveled and her clothes dirty. Her face was set and her eyes were disengaged from what was happening around her, as though she wanted to avoid interaction at all costs. To be honest, she scared me a little bit, and I'm not proud of that.

But each time I passed her, something tugged at my heart. I was ignoring a human being who deserved to be acknowledged like anyone else. I decided to say hello to her.

When I did, she turned her face toward me and looked into my eyes. It was a beautiful moment. I saw a woman who was open to me, with no trace of the sullen determination that had been there before.

A little habit formed that day. I always made sure to say hello to her, and she always looked at me and returned my greeting. Each time I felt a warm rush of joy.

Once we had a discussion. It had been a warm winter and the trees were blooming prematurely. We shared our love of the blossoms and our concern for their early appearance. Instead of the woman I once feared, I found a lucid and articulate conversationalist.

I haven't seen her much lately, and I'm sorry I didn't learn her name. I saw her walking once while I was driving. "There goes my new friend," I thought.

I'm ashamed of my initial resistance to this lovely human being, but am glad that yet another piece of the wall around my heart has been broken. Beauty lurks in unexpected places. May we be courageous enough to see it.

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