Recently, I hosted a Love Fest in front of Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, where my friend, Brian and I gave out free compliments and free hugs. When we first arrived on the busy corner, I walked right up to a homeless man sitting on the curb with all of his belongings and a nicely decorated sign that said, “Happy Holidays, God Bless”. As I knelt down to be nearer to him and introduce myself, I was struck by his piercing blue eyes. “My name is Alan,” he answered as we shook hands. “I was wondering, Alan, if you could use a Subway card.” “Yes, indeed,” he quickly responded. I handed him a gift card with a quote card attached and asked him to read one side: “You are so much more than your form and your story. You are a human being with a spirit that is immeasurably worthy, infinitely beautiful, incredibly priceless.” His eyes softened as he offered his gratitude. I went on to tell him that I have this unusual practice of eye gazing where I communicate my love and gratitude spirit to spirit without talking for two minutes and invited him to engage with me. He readily agreed. I noticed he had a hard time keeping his eyes wide open, a common issue because there is often a feeling of not wanting to be seen. And he was so overwhelmed with the experience that he had a hard time not talking. After the two minutes, I asked him about his experience. He told me that he had never done that before and that he enjoyed and appreciated it. I shared back with him that I saw in his eyes a little yellow sunflower amidst a calm blue sea. “Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of the seeing the universe in the flower. I saw the universe in you.” Needless to say, he was a bit blown away, almost as if he was completely blind-sided by love, which he was.
I walked a bit further to the corner, and Brian and I pinned on signs to our Cory’s Dream: Be the Change shirts. His read “Free Hugs” and mine “2 minute Eye Gaze”. I held in my hands a double-sided sign with “Free Compliments” on one side and “Free Hugs” on the other. While Brian stood on the corner, I walked away about 20 feet farther away from both Brian and Alan. We each had our methods for sharing our love. Brian just stood there and opened his arms when people passed him, occasionally asking if they wanted a hug. I held my free compliments and asked, “Would you like a free compliment?” when people passed me. If they took one, I turned my sign around and said, “I am also giving out free hugs if you’re interested.” Some people responded by receiving our offerings of love; others, perhaps suspicious of us or involved in a conversation with another, politely refused.
After a while, I noticed Alan speaking with Brian and didn’t think much of it. Soon, Brian called me over and told me what transpired: Apparently Alan was very upset we were in proximity to “his” spot. (Incidentally, it is illegal in Austin to panhandle.) So Alan, who is quite a bit bigger than Brian, started yelling at Brian that he wanted us to leave, yadda, yadda… Brian calmly observed what was going on, while simultaneously listening to his inner voice yelling, “Danger! A large, homeless man is shouting at you at close proximity!” As Brian relayed what he was experiencing, I couldn’t help but picture the image of a duck smoothly gliding across the water, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, all the while his feet are paddling furiously below the water. Brian’s response was priceless: “First, Alan, will you give me a hug? Then we will take our stuff and leave.” Alan no doubt was completely taken off guard as he relented to this gesture of love in the face of fear. They embraced, melting away the animosity Alan felt. After their hug, Alan said, “It’s okay. Y’all don’t have to move.” And he quietly slipped back to his spot on the curb. What Alan may not have realized was, if anything we were helping him by being there on that corner, by generating a spirit of love. A little while later, Alan approached Brian and gave him a small “Gift it Forward” coupon book. How apropos!
A little while later, I spotted a police man at the light. Oh boy, I thought, Here we go. Soon he made a Huey and pulled up on the curb where I stood. At the back of my mind, I knew he was there to harass the homeless guy, but I also wondered if he was going to give me a hard time for holding up a “Free Compliments” sign. “Would you like a free compliment?” I asked the police man as he neared me. He declined and walked right past me to where Alan sat. He surveyed Alan’s sign and undoubtedly realized he didn’t have enough evidence to ticket or arrest him. So, instead he asked for Alan’s ID and checked it out on his computer. Soon, the police man was back to really lay it on my friend, “You’re homeless. You don’t have a job. You can’t just sit here. You’re a convicted felon. You have to leave…” blah, blah, blah. Every word felt like a blow to my heart. Part of me wanted to go over there and defend the man. But, I reasoned that this was just the way it goes here, and it wasn’t appropriate at this time to intervene. As Alan gathered up his things, I walked up to him. “You see how they treat the homeless? They didn’t say anything to you for holding up your sign. I am homeless. Is that a crime?! They treat us like we’re nothing.” My heart bled for this guy as I looked into his blazing blue eyes. “I do see how they treat you like nothing. But you and I know, Alan, that you are the universe.” There was a momentary pause to receive what I said, but it was quickly overtaken by the rage of injustice he felt so deeply by being told once again that he should not exist here. As I watched my new friend trudge away, I sent him along his way with loving intentions and gratitude for his journey. As I recall our experience, I feel a lot of gratitude for being there in that moment, for touching lives, but more importantly being touched with unspeakable love.