A few days ago Joe walked passed him as he sat, in his usual spot, chatting with a woman. Joe heard him say, as he moved the cup he uses to collect change away from the woman who sat beside him, "This is my spot, this is where I work Monday to Friday, every week." Joe was telling me this as we rolled past where he was sitting. I noticed that his sign said that he was dealing with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. The rest of the sign was a simple plea for help.
On our way back, I had some change and as I crossed the street heading towards him, I had to figure out how I could stop beside him, give him the change without blocking the paths of others. I figured I could just tuck up close and that should be OK. I indicated to him as I approached that I was coming with change. He nodded. I thought that, given that he had PTSD, I ought to give fair warning before coming into his space.
I parked and got the money out of my pocket. He lifted his cup to make it easy for me to drop my change in. He took the cup away, looked up at me and smiled and said, "Thank you and Happy ... " and he was stuck. The word just eluded him. He ummed a couple of times. Said, "Happy ..." twice, as if he hoped that starting the phrase again would bring the word back to him. I didn't know that it would work on the third try. So when he said, "Happy ..." My "Easter" beat his "Easter." I had spoken first, I had finished the sentence for him. He nodded, but he looked defeated. He wanted to give me something and I didn't let him. He wanted to use his own voice and I used mine.
I KNOW BETTER.
I KNOW BETTER.
I swore at myself and then I swore to myself that I would never do that to another human being again. I know that it feels like a long time when someone is searching for a word or trying to get it out, but it's not. This interchange took only seconds. I could have waited. I wasn't in a rush. I was out of everyone's way. I had given him money but he needed time.
I can't tell you, accurately, how angry I am at myself right now. A guy is down on his luck. A fellow human being who has the same needs as I have for respect and for fair play. Another human needed me to be humane. And I failed him.
But I won't again.
Because, for fuck's sake, there needs to be a connection, a real connection, between knowing better and doing better.
. . . so, for how long will you wear your hair shirt????? You're allowed to goof on occasion (if not you, then who????)
At least you CARE.
And you will use this unintended awkwardness (because your intentions were not to jump in there and fix him) to LEARN.
And you have the courage to share that you aren't perfect.
When I read this, I assumed he wasn't sure if you celebrated Easter, so that he was trying to decide whether to say "Happy Easter", "Happy Passover", "Happy Spring", or something else. Your perspective on the exchange probably would have never occurred to me! Also, I'm at a stage of my life where I'm so forgetful that I can't seem to complete a single sentence, and I usually appreciate when people say the words I'm searching for. That being said, I'm VERY quick to stop my son when he jumps in to finish his sister's sentences (she has Down Syndrome).
Thank you, Dave. You always give me a lot to think about!!
oh Dave, self compassion is the hardest task sometimes, isn't it? maybe you could meet this man again, and make a different choice. we all make mistakes sometimes.
As an ESL teacher, I get a LOT of practice with this one. I can tell that my kids are used to people cutting in or speaking for them when they're struggling to find the right words in English, so it actually surprises them when I insist that they speak for themselves, and allow them time to do so..... But not gonna lie, sometimes it's hard! Sometimes I misjudge the line between "needs some help" and "needs some time." Sometimes I let "in a hurry" win over "be humane." I try not to let those moments happen often, and most of the time, I think I'm pretty good. Like you, I know better. But sometimes I slip up. We're humans who need to be humane with ourselves too. Recommit, and better next time. (Sometimes I manage to find my humanity quickly enough to say, if it feels appropriate, "Oh, I'm sorry, that was rude. I didn't mean to speak for you." That seems to surprise them too!)
He is there everyday, Round 2!
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