Varanasi India, one of the most holy cities on earth and in my second day I am brought to tears. A pain runs through my body, like the holy river that runs through the heart of this town.
For so long now I have seen the pathetic look on the faces of beggars all around, constantly holding out hands, pointing to there hungry mouths, pleading with sad deep eyes. It is a look they have perfected and after 5 months I have grown hardened to it. I can say "no" with such force that the people walk away on my first no. This is a skill in itself, to be left alone by one simple "no!". Sometimes I am surprised by my tone. I can not believe that I was able to look someone in the eye, someone so full of need and refuse to help.
It is not that I do not give, I believe strongly in giving. It is just that there are so many and it never ends. I do not like to support the pathetic look. It drives me crazy and I am so much more likely to help those that smile...or offer something, some kind of creativity. Something that acknowledges that life moves forward.
So today as I ate breakfast a woman with her baby in arms stared at me with pleading eyes and a sad, pathetic frown the entire time I ate. She gestured to her mouth, her babies mouth, she showed scares from burns starting at her neck and working there way down her chest.
I felt disgusted by it all. I am going to be blunt and say I felt very little sympathy. All I could think about was how pathetic she looked and how I wanted to wipe that look right off her face. I wanted her to go away and let me eat in peace.
Through it all I still knew I would give her a few rupees when I left. It is very hard for me to make eye contact with a mother and child for that long and walk away giving nothing when I have so much. I also have a soft spot for those that have been burned, disfigured or handicapped. But, with all that said, I was annoyed, irritated and full of feelings that have nothing to do with love and kindness. I started making the pathetic faces back at the women, I wanted to glare at her, and when I got up to leave I knelt down next to her and with a pathetic look on my face, I turned it into a smile. Trying to show her another option, a lesson that was fueled by irritation, rather than care...I talked to her in a stern voice about my disapproval of the way she was going about things, even though I knew she could not understand a word. I put 5 rupees in her hand as I walked away, but did not look into her eyes.
I had really let this woman get to me. I felt so frustrated and kept saying "I am just so sick of this shit"...things along those lines. Tim tried to calm me down explaining that she had probably had an extremely hard life and... I knew all this and shut my ears to him in my anger. As we walked it was a never ending string of needy people. The man with no legs, the homeless children, the old women dressed in rags, all begging all asking something of me. I could not walk any farther in my emotional state. The way I had behaved to the woman began to nag at me.
I began to feel such guilt for the way I had treated someone so much less fortunate than me. A woman who's story I did not know and never even tried to understand.
Even with so many unfortunate, that woman deserved as much respect as the rest. She is a human being and I felt like something much lower, a rich, spoiled, white girl with the world at my finger tips and a heart growing cold.
All the smiling faces that walked past staring and shouting out a cheerful "Namaste!", made it all the worse, I had to go back.
With tears in my eyes I went back to where the lady was. She looked at me with kindness and had a man come over to explain her story. She put her smiling baby on my lap, and the man, with his broken English began to speak.
Her husband had gone crazy and run away, her other children were dead, I believe in the same accident that had caused her burns. Now all she had was her little baby. She had trouble feeding him because she was under nourished and her breast were so severely burnt. All she could do was beg in order to keep her and her baby fed. As she told her story I saw the sadness well in her eyes, a true pain, not put there in order to gain a rupee. Without explanation she started giving me a massage. I could feel her strength as she massaged my arms, legs, and head, right there on the street. It was as if she was showing that she could offer more if only people would give her a chance.
I gave the woman more money...not that I think money takes the place of pain...and walked away. I left feeling a bit better, like I had confronted my anger and frustration. Feelings that came not from the woman, but from myself. It is necessary at times to put up walls in order to protect ourselves. But it is not okay to judge others in order to save ourselves from the pain they may make us feel.
In all my travels my most valuable lesson has been to look in the eyes of those suffering, to acknowledge the less fortunate as equal and always feel compassion, to know that everyone is just trying to make a living, and that we all have a story. It is so much easier to get angry and feel put out rather than find a way to truly help so many or at least accept that it is only through blessings that we are not where they are.
It is said that when giving to someone in need you are helping yourself more than the person receiving your gift. Today I felt the truth of that statement.
There are some beggars who are too lazy to get a job, but many are truly in need. It is not the people who are suddenly all irritating, they have always been the same. It is me and the way I have allowed myself to see. I am humbled once again.
May this find you in a place of joy and appreciation. with endless love, Yuvia
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