I have begun handing out bag lunches in the park by the river. A great number of homeless people hang out there during the day — some in the meadow, some by the pond, some under the trees. The bag lunches are nothing fancy: a sandwich, some fruit, a dessert. I carry them in my rolling cart, and I walk along with my cane, asking people whether they’d like something to eat.
On Monday, I happened upon three guys sitting on benches — two on one bench and one on the bench across from them. Two of the guys were white and looked to be in their 60s. The other was in his 20s and Hispanic. All were very, very drunk. I walked over and asked if they were hungry and wanted some lunch. They took the lunches, and then one of the older guys said to me, “Sweetheart, we’re just a bunch of drunks. You’re traveling in the wrong circles.”
I said, “I don’t care if you’re drunks. You need something to eat, don’t you?”
At this point, the older man on the other bench called me over and gave me a book of scriptural quotes, kissing it first. The book was one of those little 3 1/2″ x 5″ photo albums into which someone had fit pages with scriptural passages. He showed me the pages. “This one is from Romans,” he said. “And this one is from Palms.” (Not Psalms. Palms. I loved that.)
I thanked him for the gift. As I turned to leave, the first man repeated a version of what he had said before: “Sweetheart, we’re just a bunch of drunks. We have money for food, but we spend it on booze. You’re traveling in the wrong circles, sister.”
Somehow, the repetition just stopped me in my tracks. In a split second, I felt so keenly how many people have been cast out from so many circles. I felt so keenly how many circles I’ve been cast out from over the course of my life. I felt how much I love what I do, because I can move through the park, and be accepted, and give kindness and respect, and receive it in equal measure.
So I just smiled and said, “No, brother. There are no wrong circles.”
And then I went on my way, carrying them with me, knowing they are kin.
© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg