Stop, breathe, and pay attention to the man who’s cleaning up the parking lot. Receive into your spirit his stooped back, pinched shoulders, and twitching left hand. Take note lovingly, “This guy did not win the genetic sweepstakes!” He didn’t create his body small and flawed, like millions of his misshapen brothers and sisters who endure their days, trying to make something of a life that never forgets its vessel urges strangers to look away.
Remember, as you stand by your car in the holy space of shamatha (calm abiding) and watch this brother walk to his next scattering of crushed cups and cigarette butts stuck in sunbaked butter pecan ice cream, that he’s important, no less a child of creation than you because you have a title and he bends his face to our leavings for money. You’re an ass if you suppose, even fleetingly, that the trashy, puke smell he takes home in his nostrils makes him less beloved than you.
His life may be glad, happier than yours, in fact. Maybe he goes home to an embrace—maybe not. Whatever the case, stand a few extra seconds at your car, breathe again, wait until he’s a far-off dot in a fluorescent-orange vest, and imagine. His days are difficult. The brain under his bristle of red hair may stay wakeful at 2:00 a.m. and pray that a companion would hold his trembling hand and know that it would never fail or betray. The hands that pick up the occasional sopping diaper are probably as faithful as your hands, John, which lift the bread and cup and presume to bless.
Watch. Witness. This is the purpose of your siestas and prayers: not that you’ll be centered and refreshed for your own sake, but that you’ll honor—shamatha!—your stooped brother’s residency in this spiritual city. Honor him? Yes, because he’s blessed you. He’s helped you to understand yourself. You’re thirty pounds overweight? Poor boy!
Finally driving off, you see his brother one parking lot away, wearing Dickey work clothes and peddling a crappy ten-speed: a skinny scalped man with jaw thrust forward like Billy Bob’s Karl in Sling Blade. Around the next curve, another towering lumpy brother stabs litter. Don’t forget, these men’s homes may be content. Or they might stare at the ceiling in the longing twilight, clenched and miserable.
Let them all be beneficiaries of your silence, John, recipients of your long Sunday naps and hours of prayer. Don’t assume to know their suffering, but always make room for it as you sip your privileged pinot noir on the front porch. Take compassionate shamatha into lonely places. Acknowledge with tenderness the forsaken. Hold their troubled flesh in your awareness.
You can’t and shouldn’t get up in their business and suppose you can fix their lives. You don’t even handle your own life very well. Still, no matter whose face you look into, you can recall that God, too, beholds that face. You can say hi. Of course, you’ve now got bags under your eyes as well as the start of your grandfather’s jowls, but if you smile—not sanguine and flakey, but real—and pray, “Let my eyes say, ‘I wish you gladness,’” maybe the soul behind that face you pass by will wonder in the wordless way souls do, “Could I be loved? Might gentle grace mysteriously abide under all the sloshing garbage bags and behind the furrowed glances of indifference? So, maybe I’m not alone?”
Somehow or other, if your worn eyes can say any of this, especially to the unlovely, then celebrate. And if all you can do is notice a man with a twitching hand moving on to his next mess, then you’ve done one invisible piece of work in the stewardship of the universe.
Thanks for trying,