I was raised in Fresno, California until age 13. For sure, I and my siblings and friends pretty much thought it was the coolest place on Earth next to LA. And LA was only cooler because it had the beaches. That was why all the movie stars were there.

At eleven, I started smoking. Not really so odd at the time. Maybe just a teeny bit young, but I did have an older sister…. One evening, my sister, her best friend and I went driving around. This was actually a very big deal in Fresno. Driving down a street named Blackstone, was called ‘dragging the main’, and it was my biggest wish to be old enough to do that. In the mean time, I did get to ride with my sister and friend, although, I was sure that the fact that I was missing the fun, had to do with my age.

We stopped at a 7-11 (yes, they had them back then!) to buy cigarettes and sodas. I babysat at the time making 50 cents an hour and cigarettes were 35 cents a pack, so I was pretty set. Walking in the 7-11, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bum sitting on the ground, in front of the windows. I really didn’t think much of him. He seemed harmless. I bought my cigarettes (Marlboro 100’s, if you are curious) and walked right out, not waiting for my sister and her friend.

As I was hurrying towards the car, I heard the bum call out to me, asking for a cigarette. I turned around. He asked again. I more clearly heard him say that he would like to PAY me for a cigarette. At first, I did not want to give him one at all. Then, I became very judgmental. I thought, “Oh my God. What is an old man doing asking a young girl for a cigarette!? Why can’t he buy them? What a mess he is.” So, I decided, because I was so much better than him, stronger and richer and more capable, that I would give him a cigarette and not take money from him. I then actually decided to be wildly generous and give him TWO! I opened the brand new package of cigarettes, took two out, and proudly and loftily handed them to him, sweetly saying that he did not need to give me money. At that point, he sat forward, looked me dead in the eye, handed me money and said very sternly, “I SAID I would pay!”

In that moment I felt a sharp pain shoot through my system. His piercing blue eyes were absolutely lucid, bright and intelligent. They were full of wisdom, clarity and intensity. I had never seen eyes like this before. They were not the eyes of a bum. In fact, the sensation I had was akin to ‘God looking at me.’ With his gaze, I felt him say, “Do not judge me. You do not know who I am.” I immediately felt embarrassed for my judgements. I became so confused. I looked quickly around at the surroundings. Yes. His clothes were dirty. And, next to his legs, he had the tell tale brown paper bag that undoubtedly was hiding liquor. I turned around and quickly got into my sisters’ friend’s car.

I looked in my hand. He had given me eleven cents. Far more than the price of two cigarettes.

A deep awareness began moving in me. Something about judgement. Something about ‘beyond appearances’. Something about, maybe I don’t know everything!

I was quiet the rest of the night.

Contemplating
the
Eyes
of the
Bum.