I remember growing up around my mom…she lived in a state of constant worry and a state of constant fear. She moved away from it more as we grew older, but I remember when we were younger how afraid she was of everything. She was afraid of thunder. She was afraid of bugs. She was afraid that we would wander too far from the house. She was afraid.
The thing about people who live in fear is that many times that fear tries to transfer to the people that live with them. The one phrase that I remember my mom using constantly was, “Don’t make eye contact.” Now there were particular people or groups of people this was directed toward…strangers, in particular, but also those who others categorized as mentally challenged…homeless people and stray animals.
My mom never felt comfortable around any of those things. It makes me wonder what kind of life my mom had growing up….so much fear. As you can imagine, many of my mom’s fears began to take root in my heart as I grew up surrounded by them. I remember a group of mentally challenged teens who attended my elementary school….I would see them coming and I could feel my whole body go rigid. I would silently pray that they would stay far from me. I remember as a youngster walking toward a stray dog that came into our yard and hearing my mother screech from the front porch, “Don’t touch that dog! It might have the mange!” Well, at that time, I didn’t know what ‘the mange’ was, but I was sure I didn’t want it. So I ran. It was then that I started nurturing the beginnings of a fear of dogs. Finally, I remember my mother talking about ‘Crazy Mary’ the local homeless woman. My mother had heard stories of how Mary went crazy because she had always wanted children. When she miscarried after her first and only pregnancy, it drove her to the depths of insanity and she walked the streets looking for a child to call her own.
I carried each of these fears with me through grade school, high school and even part of college. When I passed the homeless…my mother’s voice would ring clear, “Don’t make eye contact.” When I worked at a grocery chain and the adults from the local group home came in to shop, I made a bee-line for the stock room with my mother’s voice ringing in my ears, “Don’t make eye contact.” When I met my friend Susan who worked with rescue animals and finally saw what ‘the mange’ looked like, my mother’s words haunted me, “Don’t make eye contact.”
I have never been the type of person who wanted to be limited by anything, most of all, myself…so I made it a point to put myself into situations where I had to address those fears. The first fear I addressed was the fear of those that others called mentally challenged. When I was in bible school in Knoxville, TN back in the days of Moses, I had to work to be able to afford school. I worked full time evenings in a bookstore, but on weekends I worked at a facility for adults with learning, mental and physical challenges.
My first five minutes in that facility were pure hell for me. I broke out in cold sweats and shook continually. My biggest fear was that someone would actually talk to me. My first duties were to help clean a fellow up after his meal. He laughed and smiled at me the whole time. It made me feel ashamed of the fear I had lived with for so many years. I looked in his eyes and I saw joy…pure elation that someone was taking the time to help him. He smiled even bigger. I could feel a tear loose itself from my eye and I felt his hand wipe at my face. He told me, “No cry….happy…happy.” He laughed out loud and I joined him.
I turned around and there was a woman in her forties standing almost close enough to me to be my shadow. “I love you!” The worker with me told me quietly, “That’s her thing. She loves everybody. She will tell you 100 times in a few hours.” I smiled at her. “I love you!” I was perplexed. I leaned in and said, “I love you too.” She looked me eye to eye and quietly whispered, “For real?” I whispered back, “Yes, for real.” She smiled from ear to ear. That was the only time she asked me that night…but we made it a point to say it once a day each time we saw each other.
I often find it amazing…the places and situations I have found myself in. This young fellow who was scared to death of getting ‘the mange’ moved to Atlanta and the only job he could find was a job at a veterinary clinic. I learned all about mange and what would treat it. I learned about animal handling and treatment. I could do the job in my sleep. Five years into the job, the opportunity came for me to work with a mobile vet. We went from house to house treating and working with pets and then one of her pets became gravely ill. There was fluid on the heart and it would only get worse. She was encouraged to bring him in and ‘put him to sleep’ when it was too much of a struggle for him. Instead, she decided that it would need to happen at home surrounded by his loved ones. She asked if I would do it for her. I looked into that sweet dogs eyes as I introduced the needle into his vein. I watched through tears as the spirit of life swept from him and I laid his head on his paws.
This morning I had volunteered to go with a work group to deliver clothing to the homeless. Collections had been made for weeks and we stood in groups next to tables full of coats and sweatshirts and pants separated by size.
My first encounter with the homeless was in New York City in 1985. I was being shown around the city by a roommate who had been living there six months longer than I had. I was informed that you didn’t touch the pigeons and you didn’t make eye contact with the homeless. “They are like rats (the pigeons and the homeless). You can’t be nice to them…they follow you everywhere.”
Years later, when I was working in the ministry, I was asked to be a part of a homeless ministry who cooked breakfast and served it underneath the bridge in Charlotte, NC. I got to know and became friends with many of the people who gathered under that bridge to eat and hear me sing and teach. As I talked to one fellow, I found out that he was my age and he had missed one paycheck. Not so different from me after all….one paycheck.
This morning as I foraged through stacks on tables and shifted clothes. I hear some of the others talking to people coming through the line. I hear a familiar laugh and a scruffy bark. I turn around and I make eye contact with the Green Wizard. He is there in need of a sweatshirt and a blanket. I smile at him and he smiles back. I introduce him to those around me as my friend…not as ‘a homeless person I know.’
It’s funny…over the years…the most powerful magick I have ever found were in the things of which my mother was most afraid. I found magick in the eyes of those whose mind danced differently than my own…I found magick in the eyes of animals whose hearts were far purer than my own…I found magick in the eyes of those who use the earth as their pillow and the stars as their nightlight. I am far richer for it.