Outside a small cafe in Nørrebro, a “hip” part of København, a man was selling assorted household items on the sidewalk — gently worn shoes, children’s blocks, a giant kitchen timer, etc.
“Are you having a good day? Are things selling well?”
“I always have a good day,” he smiled. “It’s important to focus on the good things.” Seeing the notebook under my arm he asked, “Are you American?”
I looked down and noticed the cover bore a small US flag with “Made in USA” beneath. Shit, I thought. “Yes.”
“Where do you come from?”
“Eh….” I never know how to answer this. Every attempt feels like a lie. He laughed.
“Once I saw a guy on a talent search show who had a similar answer,” he said. “Here, there… the guy was really funny! Are you having a good day?”
“Eh….” I wasn’t. I was jetlagged, overwhelmed, and sharing a room with a guy who stared with longing and told me I reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. “Just tired.”
“Come,” he said, moving aside vests and a blanket so we could sit on a bench. “Give me your right hand. You are going to send all your negative feelings to me.”
My heart surged. Not the surge you’d expect of a young woman meeting a strange man in a foreign city street, but the surge of a struggling sadhu meeting her guru in the forest. As I placed my hand in his my eyes swelled. Paris. Brussels. Terror. Anger. Refugees. Despair. One more puff and I felt like the whole world would fall down.
“It’s okay, I can take it. Just breathe and know you are safe.”
A tear slid down my cheek. A bicycle pinged. Sunlight danced on my eyelids. A cool breeze shivered my spine and then… breathing.… I was breathing.
After a time I opened my eyes and he said, “Fasting during Ramadan has helped me become more positive. It’s a mental as well as a physical fast — to conserve energy one speaks less, is more reflective.” He looked at me so kindly, without judgment or proselytizing. Just compassion. “It’s important to focus on thinking about the good things and only speaking good things.”
Lately it's hard not to dwell on the bad, sad things… but what does that accomplish? Where does that take me? Who does that empower? When I think of holding hands with a bodhisattva on a bench midway between our respective homelands there is a break in the fog… and I’m reminded that this planet is filled with living, breathing, loving beings and there are so, so many hands to hold if we just reach out our own.