Looking at the two men sitting on the raised benches at Federation square I wondered if the gap between them might just be a bit close to accept me without breeching the ‘personal space’ rule.
But I sat anyway. The closeness resulted in us all facing awkwardly ahead. I wondered if I had done the right thing but decided to stay and drop into a silent third stage metta practice. The metta seemed to envelope the man on the right of me in particular.
I find it a fascinating place to sit for a while, this place of not knowing anything about someone yet sensing into their ‘being.’
Why was he sitting here in the midst of Melbourne city’s busy hub?
No back pack, no food, no drink. Yet he confidently took his place in his space and I somehow knew he was not waiting to meet anyone and was reasonably happy with his own company.
I also realised I was very unsure if he would be happy, unhappy, angry or delighted if I tried to talk to him. I watched the physical response to this uncertainty dwell quietly in my chest.
So I waited patiently and curiously with the discomfort and wondered what would shift it.
Suddenly a delicate, tiny bird landed on the ground between us and looked up as if hopeful for a crumb.
Our heads fell forward simultaneously to gaze at this little package of birdy cuteness.
I sensed a smile coming from him that probably matched mine so I took the plunge into that silence space that hangs between strangers.
“I think she wants your lunch.”
He laughed out loud, patting his protruding stomach,
” She won’t be getting anything from me. Its obvious to anyone its already gone ”
We fell into easy chatter.
He shared his story, encouraged by the occasional question from me.
He was a grandfather from Adelaide who had come over to watch his team play football the night before. The bus would take him home in four hours and he was biding the time ‘people watching’.
When talking about how he struggled as a young boy at school, he rejoiced in his own ability to find a path of meaning in life . He achieved success in business once out of school but soon saw that sometimes the simpler jobs, where he had time to enjoy his relationships with colleagues, gave him more pleasure than taking on promotions and making more money.
I saw in him, reflections of the many boys I taught over the years, whose lights of potential were always thankfully stronger than the labels that often followed them from class to class.
He wove into his stories the threads of his ability to smile in the face of struggles. He spoke movingly of his wishes for his teenage granddaughter in particular to find her way to achieve what she was capable of in life.
I knew it was the right time to open up my bag of ten buddhas, tell him about how each small buddha represented each human beings’ vast potential and offer him one to keep.
He immediately chose a brass one that he thought his granddaughter would love. Introducing it into its new home of his pocket, he wished me well on my adventure.
As we shook hands warmly, the space between us didn’t seem too close at all.
Buddha donated by Prasadajata Emerald.Australia.