Room for the River

Julie - Elkridge, Maryland
Entered on February 20, 2008

I looked at my over flowing Gokhi Baba cache in the puja room. My grand father (on my father’s side) had passed on the name of this lost and found saint to my mother when she married into the Acharya family. She passed it on to us. Gokhi Baba was a virtuous person who found lost objects with a very good probability. As a habit, before I start searching for a lost item, I place some small change dedicated to Gokhi Baba any where in the house and then start looking for the object in question. In all these years the probability of a miss has been contained to 1 percent.

Generally when I got enough coins accumulated, I would take them to the temple and give them away. That day I decided to place the coins in a plastic bag and give them to the first beggar that I would meet when I alighted from the bus in Delhi. As my stop got closer I was restless wondering whether it would be a little girl in tattered clothes or an old man without eyesight. It was mid January in Delhi. Bitterly cold. I sat huddled on the seat clutching on to my thick woolen jacket wondering how the homeless lived on the roads. How did they ward off the cold winds?

As the bus reached the stop, I got down and my eyes met the emaciated mother with a new born clinging to her breast. I knew it was her. I had not counted the money in the pouch but it was definitely over 50 Rupees in coins and notes. I handed the bag to her and decided not to turn back as I did not want to be a part of the pleasure that wasn’t really mine. The art of giving is far more complicated than receiving. It is difficult to negate the feeling of pride as you give away. I decided to not partake of this pride. But I did think of the young woman often.

In this land of overflowing food and drinks and so many options at that, I have thought many times of our homeless people (those that I left in India) and likened them to the ones on the streets of downtown Baltimore. They looked the same. Only in my own selfish way I still thought that the poor in India were mine.

Today I filled several cans of peaches, pears, peas, mushroom, chicken noodle soup and Rice Krispies into a paper bag.

I meet this young girl every weekday. As the lights turn red at Lee St, right where we enter downtown, she walks past the cars sadly. In her 30s, she is very thin, with a mess of unkempt hair on her head, wearing an over sized men’s jacket that hides most of her body, in men’s boots and dirty trousers. She holds a rough board in her gloveless hands that says “Homeless Please Help”. Today in the icy cold winds, she walked down the road as the lights remained red. I saw her coming towards my car: The same lost gaze as on the streets of Delhi. The look that said that they had long given up on life, but were forced to live. I picked up the bag and opened the window. She bent down and took it from my hands. Then she looked at me and said two words that pierced into my heart like a knife: GOD BLESS. I bit my lip trying to stop the tears. She needed the blessings more than me.

The lights changed colors. The cars started to move and I did what I would not do. I watched her from the rear view mirror. I could see her back receding away from me as the car sped forward. I continued to watch her back to feel the relief of not having to scavenge for food for one more day. The river in my heart overflowed its boundaries. It needed more room. To cry. To give.