The tickets were for three games of the Minnesota Twins series against the New York Yankees. The first game was scheduled for a Tuesday night. We parked in the ramp near the stadium and began our trek down to the street and toward the field, passing ticket scalpers and street musicians spread along Twins Plaza.
One particular “musician” was sitting on an upside-down bucket banging on a similar bucket he had turned into a makeshift drum. His long blond hair fell down his back and apparently hadn’t been washed for a few days. He wore a ragged sleeveless top and cut off shorts. We concluded he must be homeless. Placed beside him was a white plastic bowl with a handwritten sign that read TIPS. There were a few coins and bills as well as another scrap of paper sharing a Venmo code.
As we passed, he continued to bang on his bucket. I avoided making eye contact but did notice he was missing a tooth. I felt myself judging him for his lack of ambition wondering why he didn’t apply himself and get a “real “job. Lots of places were hiring – from fast food to delivery drivers to gas stations and retail – it seemed everyone was looking for help.
At the end of game one, we made our way back to the car. Unbeknownst to us, we had chosen our spot poorly because it took more than an hour to get out. We were literally the last car to exit the ramp. Our windows were open while we waited in line forcing us to listen to the incessant banging on a bucket. There was no rhythm or rhyme and the banging began to annoy us all.
GAME 2 -- THE APPROACH
For game two of the TC v. NYY series we parked further from the stadium to avoid the traffic at the end of the game.
From a few blocks away we could hear the banging on the bucket and our annoyance from the previous evening resurfaced. We commented that the sounds of the plaza were calling us back to the field. Our tone was snarky while we joked about drawing straws to see which one of us should ask the drummer to stop.
We agreed that it should be our brother who approached him. In our family, he is the one with a sharp tongue and a sarcastic attitude. He is a military vet with a thick outer crust, surrounding a soft center. He served three tours in Afghanistan and upon his return experienced PTSD. While he has never been homeless, we thought he would be persuasive in convincing him to try something different.
Perhaps it is cliche to pair homelessness and military veterans but cliches often reflect truth. While this is not a story about how inept our government is at treating PTSD in those who serve our country, it wasn’t a stretch for us to wonder whether the homeless man was a military vet.
As we neared the drummer, my brother began to veer his direction into what we thought might be an interesting exchange. Instead, he simply asked him about Venmo. The drummer explained to him that it was an app similar to PayPal that allowed people to transfer funds electronically.
My brother was familiar with Venmo, but when we reached our seats safely out of ear shot, we discussed the inequity of a homeless man having access to a cell phone or computer questioning how he could afford such luxuries. In our wisdom, we concluded that he was obviously a scammer and our disdain for him grew.
When we left the stadium after another Yankee win, we passed the drummer judging him for his lazy, scamming ways.
GAME 3 -- THE SHIFT
On the way to game three, the topic of the banging ensued. We wanted to know how the homeless man could afford a cell phone. Moreover, we wanted to encourage him to consider his employment options. I justified my criticism by telling myself that I was being helpful and supportive. I wasn’t. I was annoyed and selfishly thought the outing would be more enjoyable without witnessing a homeless man bang on a bucket for loose change.
After several adult beverages and a disappointing Yankee loss, I had the courage to take the matter of the banging drum into my own hands. I was going to rid the plaza of this sore thumb and save society from a dangerous scammer.
I approached the drummer and asked about Venmo. I thought it was the perfect way to steer the conversation to the topic of technology to catch him in his scheming ways.
He said the same thing to me that he had shared with my brother a few nights before.
“Does that mean you have a cell phone?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said proudly as reached inside his duffel bag. As he pulled out his phone, I could see another set of clothes, a small towel and a pair of socks.
“How do you pay for your phone?” I asked.
“I get by” he said. “It’s been better since the crowds are back.”
“Do you get by?” I asked with a softer tone. “I mean, can you make a living doing what you’re doing?”
He pointed in the direction of the other street musicians and told tell me he was a recovering addict that lived with a band of brothers.
“There was nowhere to go once I got clean” he said. “I couldn’t go back to where I lived because most of the other residents still use.” he shared. “So our band sticks together and we do our best. It’s been tough but we have good people who help us out. I’m pretty lucky,” he said.
I told him that many places were hiring and maybe he could find a steady job. He put down his drumsticks and looked me in the eyes and said, “They don’t hire people like me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t have a permanent address and some of them think I’ll either steal or show up high,“ he said.
There was no bitterness or suggestive tone that he was a victim, just an indication that he actually understood any reluctance to hire an addict.
He struck me as self-aware. He went on to say he would keep doing what he could to stay clean because he was committed to a better life for himself.
I asked him if he knew any songs that he could drum out. He said he didn’t but was open to learning. I suggested he learn a couple of catchy old-timey hits like “I Love Rock and Roll,” or “Sweet Caroline” to draw in a crowd and help him get better tips. He said that was a good idea and would give it a shot.
The guilt in my heart was heavy. I could feel myself choking up from the grace shown to me by the same individual I had harshly judged moments before. I took a pic of his Venmo account and wished him luck on his journey. He said it was people like me that made his days bright as he thanked me for stopping to talk.
I’ve had my share of challenges, but I have no idea what it feels like to be homeless, struggle with addiction, or question whether I could land a job as a dishwasher or fry cook if I had no other options. And if a tipsy stranger approached me with life advice, I doubt I would be as warm, open and honest as the homeless drummer had been to me.
As I walked away, my world felt upside down. I saw darkness in me that I hadn’t realized existed. It occurred to me that he was the living embodiment of Powerful Perspectives, far above the self-awareness line in acceptance while I was far below the line in judgment.
I didn’t appreciate my reflection and felt like a fraud. As a life coach committed to the empowerment of people, I teach that change can happen when perspectives shift away from judgment to acceptance.
In that spirit, I took a hard look at my thoughts and beliefs. Over the next few weeks, I shared this story with friends who said they would have felt the same way. We are only human and there are scammers who prey on kind-hearted people, they'd say. It's true, but that justification didn't put me at peace.
It felt like they let me off the hook by suggesting that because he fit a mold it was ok to judge. If there is judgment, we are not seeking to understand.
THAT was the reflection that didn't align with who I am becoming or what I want for my world.
By confronting the darkness in me and making space for a shift, I am able to help others accept the darkness in themselves. Because it exists in all of us. Seeking to understand is where healing begins.
THE POWERFUL PERSPECTIVE
Transformation resides in the space between fear (darkness) and self-awareness (light) and is a never-ending journey. But it's a journey worth taking.
Like a flowing river not yet dammed up, judgment is potential energy ready to be tapped and transformed into a powerful perspective that can help heal us, our families, our communities and our world.
Transformation doesn’t begin in the light and love. It begins below the line in the ego -- and is a part of our human condition. Discomfort dwells in the ego and gets our attention like being content does not. That’s the job of the ego – to get our attention! But our ego can misinform us and cause us to be afraid of things that won’t cause us harm – like a homeless man banging on a drum or somebody who looks different than us.
When we pause to face our fear and darkness, it causes a discomfort that may be a powerful perspective waiting to emerge. I encourage you to embrace it.
What would happen if we all embraced it?
We don't know another person's story, but everyone is struggling with something. We all feel discomfort. It is universal and part of the human condition. Acceptance is a powerful perspective that calls us to a journey of empowerment and healing.
The light in me sees the light in you.
The dark in me sees the dark in you, too.
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