A few nights ago I was having dinner with some friends when a panhandler approached our tables. It was raining. His hair was wet, white and sparse. He held his paper cup close to his chest but shook it a little. He said nothing.
I remembered a mother and a child who approached me and some friends over lunch some time ago. I gave them some money and my friend's dad was unhappy. He said I was the reason they were begging. He said that they could find a job if they really wanted, but they were lazy. He said I should never give them money and encourage them to remain poor and lazy. I don't remember saying anything after that.
So I stared at him. He came to my side. I don't know what's right or wrong, proper or inappropriate, but i took out my wallet. My friend who was sitting next to me said under his breath, "Sucker." He took out his wallet as well. "Suckers," I corrected him. When we dropped some money into his paper cup, the three of us smiled. Me, my friend and the old man. He still did not say a thing except bow and clasp his hands together to show thanks. He did it many times. He then went around our tables to shake our hands, even those who ignored him.
As he was walking away to another table, something in me wanted to know if there's more. More to what, I don't know. But I asked my friend if it'll be fine if he joined us for dinner. My friend said yes. So we invited him to sit with us. If there's something you need to know about Chinese dinners is that food is communal. The same spoon you drink your soup with will be the same spoon you use for any other dish. Saliva and Hepatitis. Mmmm.
As he was eating, he was also gesturing how much each dish would cost and the price of the dinner. He wrote on the table with his finger. He was pretty good at math. I was moved when I saw my friends mounting food on his bowl like he was our grandpa and we were his grandchildren. Very lovingly and respectfully.
He finished his meal and got up to thank us again. One by one, he shook our hands. Instead of begging at another table for more money, he walked off. All he wanted was money to buy food, I suppose. I don't know why he chose to panhandle or if he had any choice, but I do know that he was full when we looked at him, fed him and acknowledged the dignity we failed to see in him at first impression. As a man, as a person and as a human being.
Some people say that beggars are shameless. It's true and I want to embrace that. I don't deserve so much of what I have right now and I don't really own anything. Breath itself is a gift. I want to have my hands open, waiting to receive than fold them tightly over my chest, thinking I'm too good or great or noble to humble myself to be like a child pauper.
So here's to whatever 2008 has to offer. May whichever road you take lead you to love and hope. As for me, I will remain a sucker.
I have much to be thankful for this year. New friends, old friends, lost much, found some, gained a little, restored, reconciled, searching, rested.
Wishing you eggnogs, warmth, cuddles, Pictionary, long talks, long walks, some clarity, some mystery, truth, realness and love. Love.
I love you.
*That's me on the Brooklyn bridge. Taken by her.
Meet Irene Huang.
I met her at the library. The library was space-agey and so very hi-tech. Unlike most libraries I've been to, this one had bright yellow escalators and huge glass windows. It stood out from downtown Seattle like it was a few centuries early.
Back to Irene.
She had the sweetest smile. I didn't know her but she was so warm and friendly, I felt like I did. We talked and she showed me the purple muffler she knitted and the purple sweater she was knitting. Purple is her favorite color. Then she took out a book of English poems. She loved English poetry so much she had been coming to the library everyday to type out every poem and save them into diskettes. Yes, floppy disks.
We talked more and she shared about an accident she had that left her lower body paralyzed and how she was unconscious for 45 minutes. And how God healed her. She also shared about how her neighbor's wife who had an accident. She passed away. Irene didn't mention about whether God was there when her neighbor's wife died, but I like it when some things are left unsaid. Some stories are sad and some are less sad. Both are important. Both have something to offer and how we respond to that changes everything.
And because she loved to share stories from her life, I followed her around town. She took my hand and we walked all around. She's too fit to be 65 years old. We moved in and out of buildings and she would tell me how to take a picture.
"No, no. That's not good. Here. Take it from here. You can see better this way."
"No, no. Turn your camera the other way. Let me see."
Her love for Seattle was so infectious. She gave me too many reasons of why she loved Seattle. She would end her sentences with "... that's why I love Seattle."
She also took me and my sister to her son's favorite dumpling restaurant in the International District. Then we walked a lot more and took many buses. And that's why I love Seattle. It was that good. Food here is good. Sushi here is fresh. Cheese aplenty. French is cheap. Coffee shops are everywhere. A city surrounded by the sea and mountains.
And there's Piroshky. What's not to love?
"No more picture!"
This post is actually a few days late as I was having some internet problems. I'm currently in Pennsylvania and it's snowing a ton and I'm having too much eggnog. Here are some photos from Seattle.
My last sunset in Seattle.