failure

This is what it looks like.

I sat comfortably at Soup Kitchen downing the last few spoons of my Tangy Tomato and Basil. It was at a busy mall basement and the after-office crowd crawled all over the place. As I stared ahead into nothing in particular, a man caught my eye. A frail, old man who tightly clutched a worn-out shoulder bag. He looked agitated – disturbed in fact. He constantly looked left and right with a purpose I couldn’t quite discern. I wondered if he was trying to ask for money, but he never did make any suggestive gesture to anyone. I followed him with my eyes, trying hard not to blink lest I miss an act of begging. He shifted his position to a few meters away every now and then, and soon enough he had walked to somewhere out of my view. I finished up my plate and took out from my wallet all the cash that I had left to place it somewhere I could easily reach. As I walked towards the direction he went, I observed that he continued to do the same. I wanted to ask him if he had a problem, but I was scared he might not understand English. I lingered around somewhere near, casually observing and just waiting for the tiniest sign that he was there to ask for help – still he never gave one. Something told me he needed it, but I needed a sign that he welcomed that help. I felt frustrated at why he didn’t make it easier – people usually held signs if they wanted to ask for money. But then again I thought to myself, I don’t always give those people money. It seemed futile so I walked away to buy something that I had intended to buy after eating. The thought of him didn’t leave me, so I tried to look for the old man again after my purchase. After searching a few places, I found him. It was strange to keep walking around so I decided to stand a few meters away from him. I watched him as he stood near some kids with their mom. He smiled at the children and I wished that perhaps the mother would give him something so that I could follow suit. But after they bought what they were in line for, they simply walked away. I stood there paralyzed by my irrational fears. I was afraid to insult him if he didn’t need money. I was afraid he might be crazy and make a scene if I handed him the money. I was afraid I’d be embarrassed if he didn’t take the money. After a few minutes, he started walking towards me. That was my chance – I looked at him, ready to fish out the cash and hand it quickly. As he walked towards me from the crowd, we held each other’s gaze for a few seconds. But he ended up simply walking past me. I gave up after a few more minutes of hanging around and walked away. But a sense of failure haunted me as I retreated from the situation with my newly purchased hundred dollar eyeshadow palette, my thousand dollar phone, and what not. It wasn’t the same feeling as failing an exam. It wasn’t the same feeling of making a mistake at work. It wasn’t the same feeling as offending someone. It was the feeling of failing as a human.

And I’m not writing it to get any kind of sympathy which I clearly don’t deserve. I’m writing it because it’s one of those failures which are better not learned through experience. May this serve as a cautionary tale of what this kind of failure looks like.

6 thoughts on “failure

  1. Very nice post Christine, so good to hear from you after such a while as it has been. I appreciate your candor in describing both the situation you encountered and the feeling you took away from the experience.

    I would have to take issue with your characterizing this event as your failure as a human and instead suggest that the feelings you now feel would characterize you more toward the successful side of human existence.

    You recognized a disparity between you and this individual and it was cause for concern. That you pursued the gentleman with an eye toward compassion, looking for some sign to engage is admirable. The fact that you were not called into service does not reflect of a weakness in character on your part; rather, I suppose the old guys’ quiet strength impressed upon you the likelihood of his condition being far beyond the reach of your purse.

    While it may be quite true that this fellow was in search of assistance, the fact that he was not delivered “you” is not of your design but rather; the work of much higher powers. Being unable to provide assistance is not what points to a character flaw; it would be far more troublesome if you were to witness human suffering and it not have any effect upon your psyche. Why presuppose that this man was truly the one in need, when in truth he may well have been placed in your path to focus your thoughts; to ready your mind for that person you will ultimately be called upon to assist?

    An ancient admonition goes: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” In this respect, I believe you pass Human 101 with flying colors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Here you go making me think again 😉

    _Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body._

    Of course – as is often the case – these bits of ancient wisdom are open to interpretation. I take it as an admonition to always be compassionate; not merely pity the afflicted but feel the hurt withing your own existence. Know that as long as there is human bondage none of us can consider ourselves truly free. The admonition is to remember – or to keep in mind.

    In your case, I would suggest that although this old man with his obvious affliction struck a chord with your sympathetic nature it is also important to recognize that many afflictions of your fellow human are not quite so evident. As you were focused on this face in the crowd it is likely that you were shoulder to shoulder with others of our species that have troubles which are easier to conceal yet just as real as that which you observed. The admonition speaks to a mindset; a spirit of love for one another. Until we can look upon one another as being absolutely equal we will never be able to see beyond our day to day existence. The next moment of time is eternally out of our grasp; our existence relies on our faith that this moment will come. This is true for every atom in the universe.

    We are all in this together… we are all the same. We all do what we do when we do what we do… Love is the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And here you go again making me really think deeply. I had to read this 10 times to really absorb it. That’s a really profound reminder, Michael. Thank you for always making me slow down in thought and consideration. Your comments always stop me in my tracks.

      I think what you said about being mindful that everyone goes through their own challenges even when it’s not evident is really true. And it made me realize that we shouldn’t just seek to help those that look visibly distressed but even those who may carry their crosses silently. I still think I should have just gathered the courage to at least ask him if I could do anything to help. It’s too late anyway. I hope I get another chance and I hope somebody else took that chance.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I am sure you had to read and re-read because I was having trouble converting my heart into words. I wonder if you did not speak to the troubled person you observed for the same reason.
    I really didn’t mean to minimize your sentiment as expressed in this post, it was mainly the idea that not following through on your initial gut feeling to offer assistance was cause for classifying the non-action as some sort of failure on your part. You seem to be a very intelligent, level-headed individual and in the final analysis it may well be that on a subconscious level you were simply following your instincts (very often this is the prudent course of action.)

    There is absolutely no way to know precisely what might lie down any of the paths we have chosen not to travel. And as humans we often find it oh, so easy, to dwell in the “what ifs.”

    It was your deflection of sympathy (as stated in your original post) that enticed me to instead commiserate – that is to say: attempt to share in your feelings of sorrow over a perceived missed opportunity for service. As is often the case, your post has offered me a chance to pause for introspection and yet another opportunity to communicate on a deeper philosophical level. In this respect, I must thank you for opening your emotional purse strings and casting a few of your pearls in my direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh not at all Michael, I didn’t think you were trying to minimize it. I think you always provide so much more to think about when you comment on my posts versus whatever I was initially mulling about so thank you as well for never hesitating to share your thoughts. As usual I am at lack of words to contribute to the wisdom, but know that I always enjoy reading your replies.

      Liked by 1 person

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