05 May 2012

By way of Explanation but not Apology

In my case it came about in my evolving relations with my own three beggars, two of them old ladies who sit at their stations against the wall along the street, one on San Antonio near the pharmacy and the other on Umaran going up the mountain. Yes, they do sit with a hand out. Downright Biblical looking figures, those two. The third is the dirty child with . . . I shall tell you more about him some other day.
There are many more like them around the city, but I plighted my troth to these three and no others in order to impose some order on my charitable instincts and keep the charitable expense under control. Over the course of these three years.

During that time one thing led to another as it always does. First, I was only walking through their space. Then I started dropping coins in their hands as I walked through their space, eventually settling on a ten peso piece, when I had one, because of its satisfying heft. Eventually, I stopped to chat them up while I pressed against the wall beside them to let others pass as I fumbled through my pockets feeling around for a ten peso piece, not understanding a word they said in reply because neither has any teeth.

Not long ago the whole thing took an unexpected turn. I can no more explain it than I can explain what brought me here to Mexico in the first place. Whatever the explanation, as with my migration to Mexico, it certainly had nothing to do with any intention on my part. (For the first 61 years of my life, I never gave the nation of Mexico a second thought. I mean, I knew something was here, but . . . .)

Pressed up against the wall next to the one on San Antonio, I dug the coin out of my pocket. Then it simply happened. I squatted beside her, with my back still against the wall, brought myself down to her level while Mexicans were stepping around us. I cupped her hand in one of mine, put the coin in her hand with the other, and closed her hand on the coin with both of mine.

Honest to God! I did this. Me. As if I were Mother Teresa or somebody like that, which I most emphatically am not! Right here is where I become doubly embarrassed, because the last bunch with which I would wish to be lumped is the children of the New Age. Perish the thought! But when you have been wrong about something, you need to step up and admit it, I say, even at the risk of being thought a lunatic.

Of course she pulled her hand away immediately with a death grip on the ten peso piece and said something that sounded like “Oshkosh.” I would not lead you to believe that she gazed meaningfully into my eyes or anything like that. For her this was business. Nevertheless, before she did and with my hands on that crone's hand for no more than a second, I physically touched—not metaphorically speaking—I physically touched that thing that connects us all. There is such a connection. I am as sure of that now as I am sure of anything. The best hope that I could have for anyone is that they have the sensate experience of the thing that connects us. The more hard-bitten, the more cynical, the more solipsistic they are before, the greater the wonder will be after.

I myself owe that little old lady a fortune for it. (Morally speaking. There was no contract entered.) I can report to you that the instant in which you touch this thing, or sense this thing in some way--this connecting thing--the infinite nature of it is revealed and apparent on the spot. Infinite because it is not only a connection with other human beings but a connection with everything. The totality.

In that moment, by the way, I put my hands on your hand, too. Whether my friend L.C. Howe or anyone else noticed me put my hands on his hand I have no idea. Perhaps not. But in case you did and were spooked, I wanted to explain all this and reassure you. It was inadvertent. I had no idea that I was going to touch this little old lady's hand, let alone your hand, until it was done. I wish that I could promise you that it will not happen again.

[If you are interested in reading the thirty some public comments in response to this blog entry's original publication, comments that cover the gamut of reactions by the way, you can read those by clicking here.]

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