Susan Jacobs shares an experience where ten years ago, a homeless beggar on the subway opened her eyes to a new perspective.
What does it say about us humans when we become immune to seeing witnessing despair and suffering? When we pass judgment and make assumptions based on how a stranger looks or behaviors? In New York City, we see it all and perhaps it becomes ‘self-care’ to go numb because if we actually tapped into compassion it would be too painful.
The parade of homeless beggars in the New York subway was endless. At one time, signs were prominently posted throughout the train cars urging straphangers to resist giving to them. Although begging was supposedly illegal, there was no sign of law enforcement on this day. And really, who is to know what story is true, and who am I to judge if they are being truthful or not?
Ten years ago, I made a radical career change when I walked away from a large salary, expense account, premium health insurance, and all the glitz and glamor of the music business, to go to Ghana, West Africa for a two-month Kundalini yoga teacher-training certification program. I was fried from two decades in entertainment public relations and marketing and needed to get as far away as possible to gain perspective, get some rest, and to find out what really mattered the most to me when stripped down to the bare necessities.
Several months after returning home, my bank account was sparse. I found myself scraping together change around the house just to buy a metro card. A dollar felt like a million bucks on some days. A quarter, like a gold. Credit cards were keeping me afloat, along with growing debt.
As I rode the subway one day back then, I watched and listened to a woman beggar. There was something about her that caught my attention enough to remove one earplug from my I-Pod. I had no money and only an empty metro card. But I knew I must help this stranger. She begged, said she was hungry and had not eaten since the previous day. I couldn’t and still can’t imagine the humiliation of having to beg, nor can I imagine how it truly feels to be hungry. On my most challenging days, I always had places to turn. Credit card companies were my drug dealer, continually increasing my credit line despite my situation. Why is it that the less money you have, the more cards and credit line you receive?
How often do we say, ‘I’m starving.” A figure of speech yes, but to many, a reality. After spending extensive time in Africa and Haiti over the years and witnessing first hand what real starvation is, I became embarrassed that I often forget and used those words, ‘I’m starving.’ But the truth is that word doesn’t belong in my vocabulary for personal use, and most likely not in anyone elses who is reading this. That day, I had a few groceries with me as I headed home – only uncooked items – rice, beans, and a bag of pretzels that I was munching on to appease my gurgling stomach.
I apologized to the lady for only being able to offer her an opened bag of pretzels. She took them with such joy. Our eyes met, sister-to-sister, woman-to-woman, human-being-to-human-being. Everyone on the train was watching. She smiled and announced as she began eating, “Now I just need enough to buy a cup of coffee to go with my pretzels.” People looked at her, listened, and then returned to their own business. Not one offer for any change was made.
In that moment, I was again reminded of how fragile it all is. Today we have, tomorrow, perhaps not. I vowed to treat all beggars with respect until knowing what their story really is. Perhaps their lives once reflected ours, perhaps they fell from an even higher place than we know today.
While I try hard to stay in that mindset, it’s challenging because you never know what’s for real, and it just takes one to throw a wrench into the pot. The other day a beggar came into the subway car where I was minding my business, trying to chill. He started with his story and as he was done talking, walking the car to see who would give money, I was right on the fence, not sure he was a legit beggar. Even just writing that statement seems wrong, but unfortunately, it’s true. Low and behold, that gut instinct never lies. He sat down across from me and pulled out not one, but two brand new iPhones, from which he started blasting his music. Everyone in the car watched and basically say there shaking their heads in disbelief.
Holding onto compassion and human kindness is critical and needs to be cherished. But sometimes we’ve just gotta turn our back. I don’t know about you, but even with the con artists it’s still hard for me to do.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?
That life is a perpetual cycle of change and to try to pretend, manipulate, or deny that is futile. So… I’m working on loving and embracing that each moment of every day.
2. What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?
That I’m a perpetual work-in-progress and that the old I get, the less I actually know because most of what I think I know has been based around ego. And we all know that anything ego-driven is gonna backfire!
3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?
That I wake up every single day and face all that life presents with as much grace, joy, and compassion as possible. Goals and dreams — to become a best-selling New York Times author, to inspire and empower women around the world to speak and live their truth through sharing my stories and giving voice to other’s stories that matter. This is an ongoing work-in-progress so am excited to see how it continues to unfold.
4. We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?
Self-criticism, self-doubt, self-judgement…. bah humbug, me not want that any more. Now, at least I catch myself more often than not in the act so can adjust accordingly.
5. “I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!) Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
The answer will always be the same — my salsa dancing and Kundalini yoga practice. They both keep me sane, lift me up, provide a safe place for me to let go of all stress, and kind answers.