The Stranger’s Gift

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can as there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did- Sarah Caldwell

\"creditI walk down the concrete stairs as the light rain pelts the ground and I quickly make a dash for my car parked a few feet across. He is tall. A white cotton cloth is wrapped around his head. The crevice on his face shows years of life caked in between. In his hands, he holds a plastic bag of unknown items. In his eyes, he holds a gland full of stories. Somewhere in between, there must have been laughter. But for now, all I see is desolation and desperation as he extends his right arm asking for money: “lije ebakish rabegn, ebakish”, (my child I am hungry).

I am sometimes guilty of urban life and its apparent disparities stunting my giving to each hand that extends asking for change. How much change can one continue giving at each traffic light? At each errand stop? How many times can you stop? To acknowledge? To relieve a momentary burden? Most times – we continue.

Stopping is thought to be giving only. Sometimes, stopping is also taking. He gives me this perspective that afternoon.

I proceed to say “egzer yestelegn, (let God give)” and jump into the car moving to pull the door in as he warns in an emotion laden tone: “tey lije, yehem yalfal” (my child this too shall pass). I look up and look into his haunting eyes and I am pulled in temporarily into his despair. Thereafter, I take out one birr notes and hand it to him as he showers upon my unborn descendants’ and I blessings that I believe we will one day reap. I humor myself: at three birr per elder’s blessing, life can be good.

I believe the universe always provides in one-way or another a situation, an encounter, a person, and a moment that prepares you for each crossover you make in life. Often times, they appear in the most unexpected and subtle ways and forms that can either astound or wither away unbeknown to us and rendered meaningless. As of late and with commitment to myself to experience the richness of each encounter, I have slowly started entertaining the milieu of strangers reaching out daily for interaction in one bizarre way or another. Yet not all encounters give you that sensation in your body that you are being cushioned against, prepared for.

I continued on my journey that afternoon still pondering why I felt haunted by his eyes and reflecting on the many variations of how “hulum yalfal” (all shall pass), unravels in all our lives. Riches to poor? Poor to riches? Hardship to success? Weakness to strength? Health to disease? Here one minute, gone the next? Perhaps one of many ways. I took the thoughts, digested them then shelved them and moved on. We are after all attention deficit beings.

Later that afternoon, my life changed in a way I would probably not fully understand for years to come. A reality I had held attachment to suddenly ceased to exist without my choosing and was replaced with one I was utterly unprepared for and had not seen coming at all.

But wait a minute.

I did not take his name. I did not ask him about his story. The only burden I relieved was worth 2 grams of baked dough in a corner bakery.

Yet he came, signaled me for what was to come and had prepared me for the new reality I would have to come to terms with for the rest of my life.

“Yehem yalfal, lije,” indeed! And with that warning, what I knew to be true all my life ceased to exist and make way for another truth to emerge.

How often do you listen closely to what life is asking you to pay attention to?