The best advice I’d ever received was a from a beggar woman in the metro system in Paris, France. I would often see her as I hurried from one place to the next looking for work, trying to establish myself personally and professionally. I had no family or friends. Everyone that was precious to me was back in the United States. Though I was an American citizen until my country would join the European Union, I was an illegal which made it very difficult to take on the endeavor I’d put before myself after my divorce in July 2003: to build a new life, a better life for my children and myself. I fell on hard times when I lost my job, my “friends” abandoned and stole from me and I found myself also homeless. What had I done?!
On top of all of this hardship I had to daily bear the struggle of constant grief as I was apart from my children. I would cry for hours, alone. The noises that I emitted could not be attributed to something that was human. I simply could not open my mouth widely enough to allow the pain to escape from my body, my wounds were so deep. If I was in public I merely allowed my tears to flow. No sounds escaped from my lips. My breath would not quicken, there were only endless tears that would stream down my face seemingly without end. There was not a single stimulus that would not take me back to my girls so there was no hope that my wounds would heal.
So there I was, the living dead with no idea how I would find a way to press on. And then I saw her, the beggar woman in the metro (of which there were many). But she captured my attention immediately due to her physical state. There were no scars on her limbs so it was obvious that her deformities were not a result of injury. This was how she was born. By the way she sat there with her atrophied legs folded beneath her to the side, her spine bent from a lifetime of accommodating this posture it was clear that she had most likely never walked. One could plainly see from her naked feet that this was likely due to the fact that she had no toes, only stubs that wanted to be feet. She couldn’t dress or feed herself because she had no fingers either. She only had a singular hardened hook of what wanted to be a finger on the end of what wanted to be a hand but was obvious of little use to her, if at all.
I was immediately humbled and ashamed of feeling pity for myself. Here was this woman who had no past where I had had one that was rich with love and beauty. Back in the states I had a family that loved me and I had children that I was determined to make proud and take care of with our new life. This woman had no present as her existence consisted of being put in a spot to beg in the morning and she was, I suppose taken away at the end of the day by whomever it was that took the money some people would fling in her direction. My present was difficult yes but I had control over where I went and what I did. My only real dilemma was to find a way to facilitate our dreams. It was hard to imagine that this poor creature was even afforded the luxury of dreams. No dreams = no future. I didn’t know what was ten minutes ahead of me true, but I certainly had the ability to react. I merely had to make the conscious effort to do so.
Who was I to complain about my struggles when I had the ability to address, improvise, persevere and ultimately find a way to triumph over any situation that life brought to me?
Since that day, whenever my life’s struggles seem to overwhelm me I literally raise up my hands in front of my face with my fingers outstretched. I wiggle my toes if my feet are covered in shoes or simply look down to remind me that all ten are present, accounted for and fully functional.
I take a deep breath, rest my mind for a moment and move ahead because I have that ability.
The best advice I’ve ever received in my life came from a woman who never saw me or spoke with me. She didn’t even know I was there. But I will never forget her as long as I live.