There’s a beauty in the sun burning a London pavement. Bright and hot and very much alive. A bright light shone on me last week.
I was hurtling to the tube, beaming in the summer sunshine. A man sat outside, legs crossed, a small handwritten sign asking for £20 for a hostel. He was in his late thirties maybe, etched with all the trauma of a life on the street. But what made me catch his eye was a small window he chose to show. On his left, he had a wooden box with crayons and pencils. On his lap, a sketching pad, with the face of an unknown commuter stretched out in pencil, a passer-by, a face captured by a very brief moment and a longer reflection. He was observing, drawing, wondering, thinking, all in his isolation.
I sped past. But in an instant, inside the tube station I stopped. Literally. In a further instant, I reached in my pocket and found a crumpled cash note. I turned, found him staring at the stream of faces and leant down, handing him the note….’Keep drawing’ I said….’Take care’. He smiled, thanked me and I returned to the station.
I was puzzled, as I sat on the speeding, hot and crowded train. And then I realised what just past. This man, this human being, in all his circumstances, had just shone his life on mine. There I was, not him, surrounded by crayons and sketchpads and pencils, a small boy, alone, imagining and wondering and trying to connect. I saw me.
What was the gift here? Not my note. Not the moment in the sunshine on a London pavement. The gift was very simple. A truly personal human connection. Ourselves in another. Our fears, our loneliness maybe, our vulnerability. I had just made a gift to another by giving to myself.
We shy from the honesty of such an exchange sometimes. We need to be more honest. Ourselves in others….normal, real and very much alive.