“Come back here! I have no body. Come back here. Who is caring for me?” She shouted to a person around the corner I could not see. I was rushing to volunteer at the InsightLA meditation center in Santa Monica and I saw a big homeless African American woman shouting on the same corner I had to go around to get to my meeting on time. I hesitated wondering if I should find another way, I saw a taller older man in his early 50s just behind me, seem to contemplate the same action as me. However when I walked towards her, he seemed to think he could do the same.
I pressed myself as near to the edge of the corner of the street keeping a wide distance from the distressed woman and myself. I gave her emotional and physical space as I didn’t have anything else I could give. Was I concerned for her? Perhaps, a little. However I was definitely concerned about making a good impression and being on time for this first meeting at least another 15–20 minutes away. I didn’t see it coming what did I half-expected would come because she came at me from behind. She pushed me.
Thankfully, not hard enough for me to fall or be injured but enough for me to be angered. I didn’t want to get entangled with this, I simply wanted to go on my way. My way. Her emotional outburst and now physical intrusion left me no recourse but to engage. I didn’t know how. My one or two classes of assertiveness training kicked in and I put up my hand in front of me and said, “Stop. You don’t push me..” Her eyes aflame and she was just about to step forward when the man behind seeing the commotion raised his voice and said, “Don’t you push me!” and drew attention to himself.
She turned her attention in an instant and charged towards him. He took two steps back and then ran around her and I don’t know remember anything else because this was when I bolted. My second lesson in survival was to out-run the last person so the “bear” would eat him and not me. I ran and I ran. I am not sure I was that fast. I felt I had no energy. I was conflicted should I turn back and face this injustice?
As I ran a man on the streets just got out of his car and asked me if I was alright. I simply shouted, “She hit me and I am running.” He seemed to be looking behind to the drama ensuing between the older man and the homeless woman, I didn’t stop or turn. I simply ran.
Another man gave me a look of concern. An older woman was walking back to the place of danger I can come from and I told her quickly not to go there — there was a fight I said. And I ran.
I ran and I stopped once. I wondered should I go back — could I help the man or the woman and what was my place in all of this. I was in the States but not a citizen I wasn’t sure as an international I wanted to be involved in a criminal case. I also knew that many of the homeless people had mental health challenges and were unable to distinguish reality from their hallucinations. I was not sure I wanted to press charges and I was not sure I could effect any change in the situation. I essentially felt helpless.
As I reached my destination — I called a friend and told him what happened and there in the rain outside the office, I cried.
“Hurting people hurt others” is a phase I use often to explain to the teachers, parents, leaders and counselors I work with; not to engage too much into the deed or action or word that their students, teens, staff and clients use to hurt them. As people-leaders and carers we are seen as the “safe space” for others to dump their emotional toxicity. I tell these workers of people and healers that the reason why someone chooses to be mean to you in particular is that they know you will not ‘kill them’. They are not mean to police officers or the dictator parent or boss, as even through all that hurt; their survival instincts know not to mess with that person. However if they choose to scream and cuss you, they believe you can take it somehow. In a twisted way, they know you care or can care enough to take their pain.
That however doesn’t mean you should.
It means you can.
It means you can also learn to take their words and pain to be like water falling off your back rather than place them into your soul or mull them over in your mind. That is the lesson that I have had to practice as a mindfulness coach and leader. I do not welcome their words and their assaults but if I am in a space or situation where they do that; my next great act of self care for myself and “other care” for them is to not let this pain they carry into any more my life more than it should.
The “other care” here that I try to maintain my emotional reactivity not to throw more oil into the fire and intensifying their rage. I hold back comment in a peaceful manner. I go inward for my own place of sanity in the eye of their storm.
This is a continual skill and tension in any relationship. Engage, disengage. Conflict. Peace. Disharmony. Compromise. State of War. Arms down.
She pushed me
She had no right.
Did this homeless woman hurt me? Only emotionally — thankfully.
And I can only let her actions hurt me further— more or less by my own choice.
Sometime ago I broke up with my best friend. It sounds harsh to break up with your best friend, doesn’t it? We did a lot of things together and we helped each other grow. She helped me professionally and I helped her socially. I assumed she cared for me and then I realized she was more using me than caring for me.
I didn’t realize this until I saw her prioritize her emotional needs over mine. One day she was upset and discomforted by a situation with another person we knew. She could not process her uncomfortable emotions and rather than deal with them or let it out to the appropriate person who triggered her; when we were talking and chatting casually, she literally screamed at me. She threw all her yucky emotions my way. Since I was open to her and listening to her and close to her as a friend, all my defenses were down and her angry outburst felt like she spat on my soul. I was instantly sickened in my stomach and wounded like a young cub whose familial chose to bit into them instead of nurture and protect them. All the emotional defenses I had let down to let her in, were up again in an instant. And our friendship was never again the same. I distrusted her each and every next interaction with me. I was wounded and hurt.
She repeated more actions that showed in her world she was the only one and she could not and would not have the respect for my needs. So we parted ways and we have not spoken since. What surprised me was how little loss I felt. I guess I already knew in me that she was not really caring for me.
‘Hurting people hurt’ is a truism. However when they hurt you or me repeatedly and you can expect it coming, we have to build up a defense and/or an escape route. Simply because that’s self care. These people in pain cannot truly see us. We are only pawns in their drama and they are not able to hold back their emotions. If you are on the receiving end of such a relationship, you can only take so much before they wear you down.
I understand the pain of the homeless woman wanting to be seen and heard and loved. She was in great emotional and spiritual pain. In many ways now in hindsight, I can almost feel that her shove was not really to hurt me but a cry for me to pay her the attention she craved for. She was crying for attention. She was actually doing that when I walked past. I however chose not to engage because she was not a friend, a neighbor, a loved one or someone in my life. I chose not to engage because I was protecting myself from the loose canon of a hurting person. I was choosing that because I felt helpless to help and that made me feel equally uncomfortable inside my heart.
She, in turn, was hurt. By someone in a system where she was left alone on the streets fending for herself. A system where we abandon those who hurt for selfish as well as self protective reasons. That is why the issue of homelessness is not an easy one to reconcile. Anyone of us can be one step away from being homeless if robbed by an unjust medical or legal or social system. I have seen that happen to many good people. So in compassion I forgive her act of aggression understanding that she too is a victim. She hurt and she hurts and that system of pain is what I am seeking to understand and release if not least ease myself from.
I went home and told my housemate and she hugged me. I had a home to go home to.
I had someone to call.
My pain and cry for help was heard and acknowledged and my pain was eased.
I was seen
And I am heard
And I write this to honor and defend the hurt of those who are hurting.
Do watch the video below… and whatever we can do to open our eyes and hearts to those in pain today.
Blacked Eyed Peas — Street Living