“Give until it hurts.”
—The Dalai Lama
Once upon a time, I was a Perfume Girl. You know those chicks who stand in the cosmetic section of department stores, all dressed up and smiley, asking if you’d like a spritz of the latest sniffy le fou fou? That was me. In heels and shoulder pads.
Every day on my way to work, I’d see the same street busker outside the turnstile door playing for coins. He was absolutely gorgeous. Tall, and dark, soft brown Stag eyes. Think: willowy Hugh Jackman. He was ooo la la Parisian. He played the accordion and sang Edith Piaf in a white blousan and worn out sneakers.
And he also wore…a clown nose.
The dignity. The humility. It broke my heart.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him, but I could hardly look at him. And so I never tossed him so much as a nickel. All those days. Five days a week. I just watched the tourists and little kids walk up and drop money in his purple velvet-lined instrument case.
I wondered how his life had come to this—singing for change in front of The Hudson’s Bay department store. Then I read about him in the community newspaper. His name was Marc. “I hope to be able to make nice Christmas for my family.” He had a family. He really needed those tossed coins.
Before each payday I was usually down to my last ten bucks, just enough for a burrito and bus fare to work. One day, I finally mustered myself and clip-clipped quickly up to his accordion case. In a silly flurry I dropped in a fiver and kept walking. Then I made a sharp turn into the nearest alley, buried my face in my purse, and sobbed.
I felt complicit in his humiliation. I felt ashamed of how many times I’d walked by without looking him in the eyes. I felt poor.
In that flood of shame, I got what I needed to get. I saw that sometimes we resist The Give, because it hurts to meet the other in their place of need and suffering.
Generosity insists that you meet people where they are. This requires some courage, like all forms of intimacy.
From that moment on I stopped circling the pain I saw. Instead, I let my curiosity pull me closer to it. And when I moved toward it, I found the riches of compassion.
. . . . . . .
Danielle LaPorte is the creator of the site that’s been deemed “the best place on-line for kick-ass spirituality” – WhiteHotTruth.com – where over a million visitors have gone for her straight up advice. An inspirational speaker and former think tank exec, she is the author of The Spark Kit: A Digital Experience for Entrepreneurs. Her forthcoming book, The Fire Starter Sessions (Random House/Crown Archetype) will be emblazing a bookshelf near you, in April 2012.