The man with the red guitar

I’ve debated whether to write this story or not, simply because I don’t want people to get me wrong. It’s one of my struggles in life to be misunderstood. It’s why more often than not I stay silent. It’s probably for that exact reason that I prefer taking pictures and let them speak for me.

But here goes…

It’s a Wednesday night as I walk into the metro station with my girls. A friendly looking man with a red guitar passes the ticket gates at the same time as us. I love music and have a great appreciation for everyone making music instead of leaving that dream in a sealed box like I have; I smile at him and move on.

We walk onto the platform to wait for the metro. The man stops and stands right next to us. I figure he noticed my smile and wants to talk for a bit, after all Paris can be quite lonely at times. What happens next is not what I expected.

In the blink of an eye I see him lift his guitar in an attempt to slap me with it. He starts ranting: “Vous les blancs!” (You white people!). My initial reaction is shock. Wasn’t I just being nice to him? How is it that I deserve this kind of treatment? At the same time, I realize it’s not me, I have never seen this man before. His anger came before me and I just sparked it in that moment. My fear leaves my body. I’m trying to hear what he’s saying. I want to listen to his story, because I’ve learned over time that one of the most important things in life is being heard.

While trying to make conversation he lifts his guitar again. As he tries to hit me a second time I feel a hand on my arm and hear one of my girls say that her sister is crying from fear of me getting hurt. I had completely forgotten about my girls being there with me and as much as I want to hear this man’s story, the priority I have is with my kids. I move back into mom mode. I look at the man and tell him: “Stop! I hear your anger, but it’s unacceptable to scare my kids. They are too young; they don’t need this fear.”

It’s with those words that he snaps out of it. He too becomes calm, looks at me and my kids and apologizes profusely. We shake hands and get on different parts of the metro.

A couple of days later I see him again; asleep at the feet of Edith Piaf.

“Entre tes bras, dans le calme des nuits,
J’ai tant besoin d’oublier tout ce bruit !
Délivre-moi de l’enfer de cette vie…
Fais-moi mon coin de paradis…” ~ Edith Piaf

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The picture looks to be about two friends chatting on what looks like just an every day metro ride in Paris. To be honest, I made it look that way simply because the man sitting next to them intrigued me…

So much so that when I saw him getting his camera out I walked up to him. I wanted to hear his story, I wanted to know what pulled me towards him, and the only way to make that happen was by listening to what he wanted to share with a stranger.

Much to my surprise the conversation went from 0 to a 100 in minutes.

He told me about following his heart, about being true to himself in his photography career, even though that made him lose out sometimes. But nothing was more important to him than being true to himself.

Boom!

I no longer had to wonder what that pull was that I had felt.  I simply needed to hear this man’s story, because following my heart, being true to myself and being afraid of losing out (not just money) are all things I have been struggling with over the years.

He was there to hold up the mirror of my life!

“Look for the helpers”

I’ve just finished reading an article about vicarious trauma by Annie Wright and am actually still feeling this all through as I write…

Vicarious trauma and the subsequent grief for the state of the world we live in; it’s definitely something I’m very sensitive too. It’s for that reason that I keep following news outlets to a minimum and will hide posts in my Facebook feed.

But even when I do that, I can’t really get away from reality, nor should I.

Yesterday my girls and I went to the yearly event Paris Plage. An afternoon out and about on a makeshift beach in the center of town. Unfortunately the state of the world is such that the entrance is guarded and soldiers are on patrol, as you can maybe make out in the picture.

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The soldiers being there doesn’t really give me a sense of security. To me they are more a reminder of what may happen any time we go out anywhere in the world these days.

Of course I can let that get to me and live in fear, or I can go with the words of Mr Rogers – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

As much as that may sound like I’m keeping myself naive, I’m mostly keeping myself open to meeting good people, the helpers.

After visiting Paris Plage we hopped on the metro back home and met Fran. Fran is most definitely a helper. He sang his heart out, kept cracking jokes at people, reaching out to touch hearts.

DSCF8960AI have a lot of respect for people like Fran and I wanted him to know. Now really, I’m not someone to just walk up to a stranger and say: “I have so much respect for you”, but I did. What followed was a most awesome discussion…

Thanks Fran, you may have just convinced me to do that more often, after all you can’t go wrong with being a helper!

Look with your heart…

Not a lot of posts from me lately. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been meeting any new extraordinary people, it just means I haven’t felt like talking about it.

And I still am not going to…

What I will do is leave you with a picture I took in London earlier this week. It’s not the best picture of this lovely piece of street art, but it’s a nice split-second-in-time snap.

Street art by Alexis Diaz and Elian Chali.

Street art by Alexis Diaz and Elian Chali.

Sit back and look at it. What do you see?

Now look again… Look with your heart this time…

See anything differently?!?

Hello stranger

GiveMeHateHello stranger,

I walked in on you chewing out a fellow Monday morning commuter for stumbling over your feet while getting on the metro. I knew you probably felt overlooked and unfairly treated. That small invasion of your personal space was enough to have all that you were feeling spill out on him.

One look on your face was enough for me to see that those feelings weren’t just today’s feelings. You looked so angry and at the same time so sad. When you didn’t get the fight you were looking for you started looking around you and your eyes found mine.

I looked at you with intent. I didn’t turn away my eyes when you looked into mine. I’m sure that was something you aren’t used to anymore; someone looking deeply into your angry eyes. More than ever they make people look away out of fear, right?

You looked back another time, but instead of getting me to look away I shot you a smile.

I hope it hit you in the right place. I think it did if even for a second.

Your look certainly hit mine. I felt tears well up into my eyes and a deep sadness overcame me. You broke my heart.

I wish I could have given you a hug. I wanted to hold you tight, make you feel the love I felt for you in that moment. It would have been too awkward though.

So instead I made sure that for the remainder of my commute your personal space was respected and protected. I made sure you could be the way you wanted to be. You looked up a couple of times and our eyes would meet. Did you wonder?

When I got off the metro I looked into your eyes one last time and wished you a wonderful day; I think I said it three times. I had to make sure you heard me. It was too late though you had to be the young man again protecting himself from the outside world through eyes filled with anger.

I wish we could have sat down and talked, but there are too many barriers still that I’m not ready to take…….

She mocked my ways

DSC_3026AHow do you feel when a stranger laughs at you?

I’m not talking about a stranger smiling at you, I’m talking about a stranger laughing at you and laughing at you wholeheartedly…

Have you ever had that happen to you?

It happened to me at a clothing store the other day. I walked into the store with my two girls walking next to me. We were talking together. None of what we did or said was out of the ordinary to me. Then the woman that had walked into the store right in front of us turned around and laughed while looking at us.

It was confusing to be honest, not world shocking, but confusing. I’m used to people commenting or smiling when I walk somewhere with my girls. We are cute as a family. But this woman laughed at us and then she laughed again. I’m sure I frowned and then smiled. Not expecting there to be more.

When she laughed a third time, she stopped us. She decided she needed to explain. She wasn’t laughing at us, she was laughing at me.

While walking into the store I had warned my girls: “Today we are here for me, you are not getting anything. No point in trying to convince me otherwise.”

I hadn’t even noticed my remark, but she had found it to be hilarious. She said it was a nice try, but that  it wasn’t going to work.

While writing this and thinking back of that moment I’m actually laughing at myself…

The woman at the store was right when she said she thought I had a funny way of mothering my children. I do and I get judged for it at times. It happens mostly when people don’t know our whole story.

But I’m really happy for who I have become as a person and as a mom. I’m down to earth and to the point. I raise my girls in a realistic way with respect for them and respect for me. The whole of that wrapped up in tons of love and humor.

My girls and I truly live, love and laugh together as a team.

I want to say to the woman in the store: “Thank you for making me realize that my way is a good way, for my girls and I. Thank you for giving me this proud mommy moment.

You weren’t totally right by the way. I bought a dress and nothing more. My girls didn’t ask for anything. They were happy enough picking out a dress for me.”

Only 3 stops to Dizzy’s

Dumbest move on my NY trip? Going without a map. I mean, I love exploring a city by just going where my feet take me, but if you want to go somewhere specific a map is definitely a useful tool.
 
One of those places I wanted to go to was Dizzy’s Diner on 9th Street. I was told I would be able to get some mighty good breakfast there. It was only a couple of subway stops from where I was staying, so normally I would have walked had I had a map, but now I didn’t…
 
And that’s how I ended up in the next encounter…
 
Let me first say that there is a way to do things, and I’m not convinced I handled the situation in the best possible way.On the other hand I did something, where before I would have just felt bad.
 
I got on the subway and since it was after the morning rush there were some spots to sit. I randomly picked one.
 
On the opposite side of the aisle were a mother and a daughter. Their clothes clearly showed that they were religious people. They were both deeply concentrated on reading their holy books.
 
We got to the next stop and a man got on. He too went to sit on the opposite side of the aisle, in an angle from the mother and daughter.
 
If you know the NY subway system, you know that there isn’t a lot of personal space. It wasn’t exactly the man’s choice to be that close. Clearly the mom still thought the man was sitting too close to them. While looking at him she asked the daughter to move up a spot so she could get away from the man.
 
At first I was surprised. What had just happened? The man did not look uncared for, nor did he smell bad. I saw no reason for the woman to want to move away from this man.
 
Until I saw the look on the man’s face; a look of intense hurt. He shook his head. He looked at them and then looked at me. He shook his head again and looked away, out of the window.
 
Do I need to point out to you that the man was black?
 
I felt disgusted by what just happened, but normally I would have also felt too self-conscious to do something. I would have quickly looked away and minded my own business hoping someone else would stand up for this man. But the man had looked at me. Not at the person next to me; at me.
 
I got up, crossed the aisle and sat down next to the man loudly stating that I DID want to sit next to him. To spite the mother and daughter I wasn’t going to be quiet about what I had just witnessed.
 
Yes, I stood up for this man, but I did it in a way that would make the mother and daughter feel bad. And that’s where I feel I went about it in the wrong way. It’s not with hatred that we change people’s vision of the world.
 
Yet the man looked at me and smiled. He told me he was tired of fighting this battle and that he had given up on standing up for himself. Looking at the mother and daughter he told me that he used to be a man of the Bible himself, but that he was no longer able to read it more than once or twice a week.
 
I felt his sadness when he told me this. It was like him telling me he could no longer believe, because the real world kept showing him that it wasn’t ever going to be like in the Bible.
 
I had to admit to him that I don’t know the Bible or any other holy book from the beginning till the end, but that I was pretty sure that in none of them does it say that one person is meant to treat another person like a lesser human being.
 
I told him that instead I was pretty sure that life was meant to be the way he and I were living it in that particular moment: Two people freely exchanging a moment in time, a moment that for us didn’t last any longer than 3 subway stops.
 
And that’s how I made it to breakfast.