It’s early morning, a quiet grey dawn on the Venice boardwalk walking with the pigeons and seagulls. I can’t see him but can hear footsteps behind me, off to the side, and the man clears his throat. Aware of his presence with that ordinary vigilance every woman knows, I’m about to turn toward the ocean to swim when suddenly his words burst into the stillness: “I love my life!”
My head turns. I pivot around to face him, surprised, full of joy, “I’m so glad! So do I! I wish everyone could feel this way!” We stop, staring at each other, and smile — he is a very tall, thin man, African-American, eager to talk about his beloved mother who died June 25th.
As we walk on together, part of my brain is assessing his sanity (how sad to question the mental status of someone who openly declares his love for his life!). My heart is touched when he tells me about his mother, father, and brothers, but my head begins to wonder, is this safe? Is anyone else around? He instantly picks up my wariness, just as he had sensed friendliness before, and says softly, “I just wanted someone to know how much I love my life.”
I understand. You do, too. Bearing witness to and for one another, being seen and heard, dispels loneliness and connects us to our shared humanity. He and I say good-bye, warmly wishing each other luck. I don’t even know his name.
In the cold, calm water, an “if only” arises: if only I’d stayed happily present and not communicated any uneasiness in his presence. Would it have felt different if he were a white man? Not really. Not when I’m alone at the beach. Yet there are corners in our hearts where prejudice can abide unnoticed – and it’s important to look honestly, to ask ourselves, to see.
With mindfulness, we can learn to see through prejudice, we discover we can see the world anew. With a little warmth and friendliness, we can create moments of connection, sangha, community with each other. May we and all beings be able to love our life! — just as it is.
Image Credit: T. Goodman