The Darker Side of Berkeley

It is another cold and overcast morning in Berkeley. As I run from parking to work, late as usual, she walks up to me with urgency. She is about sixty years old, is not grungy like some of the others I have seen, but does look very poor. As she starts addressing me, she doesn’t sound illiterate, crazy, or high. She says softly: “Good morning. I am homeless. I am cold and hungry. Can you give me some money to buy breakfast?” I stop and look at her. Something about those soft blue eyes grips me. I so want to talk to her, to find out her story, for she would have one I am sure. I am late and even if I was not, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask and bear listening. I look in my purse and fish out two dollar bills and ask her: “Will this buy you something at McDonald’s?” She says: “Yes, thank you, God bless you.” As I start walking, I wonder again whether giving money to the homeless is a socially responsible thing to do. I usually begrudge being asked for money by beggars and vagrants, because I think if I started working at 15 and then continued to work all my life to support myself and others, so can and should those who can work. This time, though, I didn’t think those thoughts. Though I seldom admit it, some days being in Berkeley breaks my heart.


Mehran said...

Nazy joon maybe u hate me for this, but I would say to those soft blu eyes: get your lazy butt to work.

Nazy said...

Salam Mehran Jan: That's what I always tell people. I also believe in helping organizations who help the needy; that way, the decisions on who will receive the aid are made by people who are specialists in this area. But, what can I say? I am such a softie sometimes!

Assal said...

My mother usually has the same motto "They should go to work, not ask me for my hard-earned money". But, then again, I think to myself; where should they work? Who will look at them in their clothes and their scrungy faces, and offer them a job? Some of them may be able to work, but so many of them will be turned down or have already been turned down by judgemental bosses in this world.

I think of how hard it is, to stretch out your hand to a stranger and ask them for help. Sometimes, I am too proud to ask my own family for help. Wouldn't it break my spirit if I had to beg a stranger for help? That is why I cannot help but reach into my bag and give even pennies, if that's all I can spare..

Maybe it is wrong, I don't know..

Nazy said...

Your tender heart and love for humankind is commendable my friend. You are right. It is a dilemma many people face on a daily basis. Be good my friend.

serendip said...

nazy jan: That's how I used to think... thou shall not judge. This episode was your 'holiest hour'. Here is story by Dr. Dyer:

Consulting your Soul

Recently I approached a traffic light where a man stood in shabby clothes with a three-legged dog by his side. As I waited for the light to change I looked at this scene with compassion and felt an urge to contribute something. The sign he was carrying indicated that he was homeless. The people in my car commented that he was a strong young man, there were plenty of employment opportunities, and why should anyone give to people who are capable of working. They indicated a kind of mild contempt for this man soliciting funds whom they felt "should" be working. My thoughts were on him and the fact that he cared for and fed this crippled dog. I rolled down the window and gave him several dollars for which he expressed enormous gratitude.

As the companions in my car semi-scolded me for being a sucker and for enabling him to continue to be a beggar I thought of some words of Mother Teresa. "You see, in the final analysis, it is all between you and God, it was never between you and them anyway." Truly this was not between me and my friends in the car, nor was it between that homeless man and me. It was between God and me. Something inside of me urged me to extend love and a little cash to the man and his dog. That "something" was a fleeting moment of consulting my soul.

To me, spiritual and physical are not two separate dimensions of reality. I think of spiritual practice as a way of making my life work at a higher level and receiving guidance for handling my problems. The ways in which I do this involve a few simple, basic practices:


Assal said...

Thank you for sharing this, Serendip. I really enjoyed reading this. It put into words something that I sometimes feel!