a man in the plaza

I’m at the plaza in old Mesilla.  I’m usually alone here at this time of morning, practicing with the birds.

There is an old church here. This is Sunday and so the faithful are arriving. A man comes from within the church. He stands near the door and greets each person as they arrive. He shakes hands and holds the door for each.

He has a Styrofoam cup in one hand, and when no one is approaching he leans against the wall with one leg cocked back and the heel of his boot on the wall.

I start to leave the plaza, and as I do he whistles loudly. I look at him to see if he means me, but his gaze is somewhere behind me across the plaza. I continue, and he whistles again – loudly. This time he shouts out to someone in the distance. He holds his free hand high in the peace sign and shouts – Peace be with you, ladies! Take care!

I’ve seen him around town. I’ve seen him in a coffee shop – trying to hold the door for people. I’ve never seen him in company with anyone. I don’t see anyone take notice of him.

Here’s where I begin a fabrication. I’m going to make a story for this man I’ve never met.

I’m reading his story from a distance.

He is a man of limited worldly resource and limited understanding, in the usual way of reckoning such things. He carries himself in a manner of self-effacement or even servility. He drifts about the village looking to all the world to be a man with nothing to do. He’s only partly visible.

Do I have my facts straight?

I can’t say.

To be understood is to be visible. If I make up a story about the man in the plaza, am I trying to see him or or am I trying to see myself?

I don’t know how to answer that.

I find him one morning and offer him a cup of coffee. I say to him that he should cease his wandering and stop his shouting at strangers.

he says to me…

Do you think that I need to be shown a better way?

How do you see me?

Do you see me as your twin in our confused and contradictory depth…

or… do you see me as your work?

Basilica of San Albina

Basilica of San Albina


16 responses to “a man in the plaza

  1. Wow. Excellent and thought-provoking post as usual. I do the same thing and make up stories about people’s lives or wonder where they’re going later, who they love and who loves them. But a lot of times I have to think the same thing, “am I trying to see myself?” I think usually I’m trying to see myself. The only point of reference I have is myself and the stories of others, imagined or told to me, all have an element of my own projections. I think our life experiences shade our views and understanding of people.


    • …and I think understanding suffers when we make projects of each other – or of ourselves. It is complicated, isn’t it. As you say, our reference is our self – and look at all the baggage that has. I’m thinking that I must look closely at even my very best intentions. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Colleen.


  2. My rule of thumb is assume nothing. My next rule is to trust my intuition and then not to assume my intuition isn’t skewed.:) Finally, since we project, it’s always good to examine strong reactions to people. There’s usually something there.


    • We project a ton onto others. It’s so routine and so normal, we don’t notice much of the time. And when we catch ourselves thinking – that guy needs work – it’s a good time to run to the nearest mirror.

      And I don’t want to jump in and go to work on someone, when what they need is someone to shed a tear with them.

      I like your rules, Hil.


  3. I can get pretty wrapped up in my own story and stuff…so sometimes I make an effort to think about someone else–someone that I’m in line with or someone in the same space. The other day, I was at a waterpark with my kids and we kept ending up in line with this older bleach-blonde bodybuilder woman and a much younger man. They were at the park together, and the way she was touching his hand and talking about things made me think that she really liked him and wanted him to like her. There was a whole story there in my head, and I liked that I found myself relating to her vulnerability rather than being judgey…I think it’s a good sign, and I think how I see this woman reveals way more about how I see myself than about who she is.


    • Hi, Amanda – Someone, maybe Ram Dass, said you never meet anyone but yourself.

      Relating to her vulnerability was an opportunity you took to move into a tender space with her – even if she didn’t know it, and even if you made it up. It’s good practice for when someone needs you to understand.


  4. Oooo, I like that: Ram Dass’ statement that you never meet anyone but yourself. Yeah. It is just so discouraging to me, that I have so much hard work ahead of me to begin to experience what actually exists, when it is all masked by my wacky perceptions. ALL of it. I have not even begun to breathe yet, although I have been alive and my lungs have been working for 57 years. It just takes so long to be actually born into this world, instead of looking constantly at a mirror of myself and being convinced at times that I have the RIGHT story of this or that. Such a cosmic misunderstanding!


    • Hi Martha. Please don’t be discouraged – you’re doing very well. It does take a lot of work, and at the same time it takes a very light touch, I think. The image of “walking the razor’s edge” comes to mind.

      Also, I’ve added an email address to invite further discussion: bharat_lonesome@yahoo.com.


  5. Well, here is a bit of synchronicity at work: I was just listening to Eckhart Tolle’s recorded excerpts from his book, “Stillness Speaks” and on the third CD he says that you are always meeting only yourself. So maybe he and Ram Dass both had this realization at the same time, or maybe they had a conversation about it. Or not. This is just a story I am making up about them…>grin<….


  6. Mmmmm interesting huh? we are all on our own path and to others it can be unclear, gosh it is often unclear for ourselves. I wonder for me the best way to connect is through real interest in the other. Who are you, I want to know you as another pilgrim on the journey HOWEVER I often judge as I try to take interest that for me is the trick. I think to remain open and mindful so I can truly be open to the other and to me too I guess. Whew , think I am rambling along now. Wonderful and thoughtful. Thanks so much.


    • We are forever comparing – which is the precursor for judgment. That probably has some adaptive purpose, but these big brains we have are supposed to open up some other possibilities for us. Slowing down is important. Thanks for commenting.


  7. I was thinking this morning how comparing this and that with very careful parameters is the basis for scientific analysis and how scientific analysis underpins so many BIG assumptions (“Truths”) in this culture that we live in right now. Science is the god of today that must not be questioned. That’s quite an enigma since the questioning process is the basic process of the scientific method. Since science, too, is always meeting itself and making up stories about that, we cannot rest there and call that Truth. Pema Chodron tells us there is nothing to stand on. No foundation, no ground underneath us at all. She is SO right. Oh! And that, too, is a story I tell myself…oh my! Well, I love a good paradox now and then, but they are really heavy to digest properly… Give it wings instead, there’s that light touch you are speaking of, Bharat! But I don’t know how to fly with it…need a good drug…need some yoga…need to tell myself another story…and it goes round and round again…I am all twisted up in this and laughing…I am convinced that after I die, I will wake up laughing…but I want to wake up right NOW…


    • In the Tao te Ching it is written that true words are paradoxical. It may be that the left side of our brains can’t show us all that we need to see. Your practice is coming along nicely, my friend. Very nice.


      • Well, I must be aided by the quirkiness of my left brain, which got slammed by a car long ago and freed my right brain to orbit the moon or maybe something farther out. See how supportive the universe is, and how I judged all of that as a baaad thing. It was instead a gooood thing that hurt for awhile, but lotsa stuff is like that. Maybe everything. Maybe it is really completely upside down from what we know/think/feel, and the stuff that feels soooo good is just….not. Geez, that must mean that my mother was right about the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll…I don’t like where my inquiry is taking me here…uh-oh…maybe I will back up just a bit from that extreme polarity. Stay in neutral and wait and see what happens and try to be a good observer.


  8. Yaaah! I was hoping that I didn’t have to run down that road that my mother ran down. It was a dead end, after all, and she was trying to get somewhere else! Ok. Observing in neutral…. Here’s a thought: if the past is still tense, then the future has to be perfect, and that doesn’t allow the present to be the gift that it truly is…


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