I met an unlikely angel a few weeks ago.
We were downtown while Steve was working on his mural, and I was sitting on the grass of the intersection corner.
Like most cities, big or small, you never know who might approach you... to ask for change or make conversation.
It's easy to become immune to the spirit behind the asking, or even callus to the effort, when so often it comes from people who live and speak and experience the world in different ways... whether they be homeless, jacked up on something, on a different mental plane, or just hard on their luck.
It's easy to move into quick judgment when we feel uncomfortable with someone, and then to shut ourselves off to their gifts by doing so.
I've certainly been guilty of it in my life. I probably will be again.
But I've found that some of the greatest, most profound feelings of connection I've had have been when I have deliberately been aware of that uncomfortable moment, that moment of choice... and I chose to lean in, rather than pull away.
On that day downtown, a fella walked up to us and immediately began the kind of excited, hard-to-follow conversation with me that often causes us to turn away.
I noticed it in me... the immediate discomfort. The desire to blow him off and go about my sketch. The feeling that trying to follow this man's train of thought, so different from the norm, was just going to be too much effort.
I also noticed how interesting it was that I almost turned away when the conversation offered no obvious gift or meaning for me.
I took a breath of forgiveness, for my knee-jerk inconsideration aka. disconnection from the life around me, and decided right then that I was going to be the space for this man to express himself that morning, that I was going to Listen.
My body opened toward him. My heart as well, within a few more breaths.
And the most beautiful thing happened.
He began to make more sense - even his odd associations. You see - he was talking in metaphor, at first.
I saw this time and time again with Alzheimer's patients, and on psych wards. They aren't talking gibberish - they're talking from an incredibly brilliant, creative way of seeing the connections in our world.
A way that asks of us to leave behind our expectations and preconceptions about the right way to see and say things, and to stand from a different point of perspective, to use our imaginations a little and to open our hearts wider.
Every time I get to live this, I am reminded how beautiful people are, and how some are so sensitive to the energy around them that they just seem a bit out there until we take the time to listen with our hearts.
This sweet man instantly began talking to me of things that were completely related to my life and heart... as if he knew me... hospice and caring for elders in nursing homes, music as a healing landscape, being with people when they die and knowing it is not an end, making art from a connection to the divine - and how this heals people, making choices in life that seem crazy to everyone else but that have been prompted by a deeper knowing or voice.
He brought these things up without any prompting from me, without knowing anything about us except that we were artists.
He told me that he felt so happy to talk to me because, "Healers, like you two, get what it's all about. It's how you are."
I'm not even kidding.
I've been thinking about this fella, this angel, ever since.
But there's more.
This man had a strange energy, yes - unpredictable. I've worked with enough people at varying places of mentality to know that he was having a good day. I know that will make sense to some of you.
While we were talking, another younger man came up. This man was quite obviously still doped up on something - from the night before, maybe. His energy was also unpredictable, but aggressive, and not one that I would have felt safe around by myself. He was, quite obviously, not having a good day.
But this first man, this angel, was just as kind and open to the second as he might have been to a puppy. He opened himself to be the space for the younger man without one ounce of judgment coming across.
He respectfully listened to him play his kazoo and cheered him on at the end. He laughed at his bad jokes and listened to his hard-to-follow story, asking questions and validating his feelings, without missing a beat.
The young man got worked up at one point, shouting off anger about being wronged over something that happened to him, and the angel man abruptly stepped away from the energy to go around the building.
I thought he was gone without a goodbye - that's often how it goes.
But once the young man had moved on, the first fella poked his head around the corner of the building and said, "Yeah, I had to step away from that violent talk. But he'll be OK. He smiled really big and said with the most heartfelt sincerity, "Wasn't he great?"
I don't know if I've captured the essence of this experience adequately with these words.
But what I do know is that angels come in many forms. And they can be easy to miss.
I am so grateful for this reminder, from the spirit of this man, that the purest gifts we can receive, the gift of connection to each other, and to spirit and joy through each other, are only available when we pause and make space in our hearts for each others expressions...
refusing to feed the negativity, and celebrating the inherent connection between us all.