My Forever Moment
En route to Yankee Stadium, I was involved in a head on collision with life. The day had begun like every other Saturday with coffee brewing, cartoons blaring, dog barking and teenagers sleeping through it all. Soon enough, we found ourselves humming along the Cross Bronx Expressway, the tires of our SUV mindlessly dipping and swerving between potholes. Stuffed in the back of the car, along with our children, were snacks, oversized bottles of water, and an air of excitement. My husband helped the radio dance between channels, finding the right song to keep the mood up beat, while I set up our lunch of chicken salad.
I glanced out the front windshield to assess the traffic, and that was when I saw him. Had I been thinking about my grocery list or wondering whether I had answered all my emails, I might have missed him. There, on the side of the road, stood a man. He was dirty and frail, his fingers gripping a sign, too sloppy to read. Car after car passed him by, their windows firmly closed, shutting out the possibility to make a connection. I do not judge them. Homeless people on the side of the road are as common as deer grazing suburban neighborhoods. I have walked by many myself. But this time, I noticed him. It seemed that my passion for introspection, meditation and spiritual teachings had made its mark. I needed to give this man something, anything.
The contrast was not lost on me that through the open window, we handed him expensive, organic, health food store bought, chicken salad. Our worlds, this man and ours, were colliding, giving way to a shame that reddened my cheeks; a contrast so stark for all we had, and all he did not. Our eyes met. I felt his desperation pass through me as chills. The moment felt like forever. Through a toothless smile, he nodded in thanks. The entire interaction took less than 15 seconds, yet a moment I will remember forever.
After the game, exhausted and satisfied, we filed quietly into our home, plunging into the security of our warm beds. Everyone slept, except for me. I thought about the man. His face etched in my mind like the dirt beneath his fingernails. Where is he sleeping? Is he insane or just unlucky? How do we teach our children who have so many luxuries, to have compassion for those that have so little? Eventually sleep came, although it was restless.
The next morning, with a mouthful of syrup drenched, home made, pancakes, my son uttered, “Why did we give that man our food?” My forever moment continued.
As parents, we spend hours teaching our children right and from wrong, trying to find a balance between guiding, redirecting and reassuring. Some of what we say sticks, but most flies out the window. No sooner as the words leave our lips, our children are on to look at the next Instagram post or Facebook friend request. If the average attention span for the general population is now eight seconds, for children living in the technological age, it must be half that. Telling our children to “Clean up your room” has the same vibrational frequency as, “Say thank you and please.” Or, “Don’t be mean to anyone.” It all becomes white noise until that one moment in life where we act without thinking; that moment when life puts someone in our path to remind us that our actions mean more than words. And when it comes from the heart, it just sticks.
And these opportunities come every day, from all walks of life. Some are obvious, far reaching and heart wrenching, like 9/11. While others seem less obvious, as easy to miss as the holding of a door for the person behind you. But when we follow our own heart in everyday life, this penetrates deeply into the souls of our children. When we say no to an invitation because we are tired, we are teaching our children how to take care of themselves. Standing up to a friend who takes advantage, shows them what it means to have self-respect. Including others in our circle of life, regardless of where they go to University and what they do for a living. Speaking kindly to the waiter in a restaurant because he is as important as the financial advisor who invests our money – all expressions of unconditional love. And to be able to help someone in need because this is what generosity and compassion is all about.
Perhaps it was just chicken salad. Or maybe for a moment, this man felt like someone saw him; that he mattered. Maybe we all just want to know that we matter. When we see the beauty of the sun crying farewell tears against the nighttime sky, we feel something. But how often do we do this? We are all so busy; there is barely time to breathe. If we slow down, we will find we have endless opportunities to make a difference, to follow our heart because this is what we are supposed to do; this is how we are designed. There are so many forever moments, dressed up as ordinary life. And if we stop listening to the voices in our head, we will all hear our hearts.
I can still feel the deafening silence that circulated within our car after we drove away that day. I want to believe our children were taking in what occurred, and storing it in a part of their brain under how to live in this often perplexing, confusing and unfair world. Or maybe they felt it too, just an auspicious moment that held a greater importance than we all could ever understand.
I have always admired the road less travelled, but perhaps it does not matter what route you take as long as you bring your heart along for the ride.