Wednesday, 18 July 2012

This Is Not A Race


Many humans are, it seems, living their lives in near perpetual competition with other human beings.
At least, that is my (possibly naive) reading of the human condition. And according to this reading, competition between humans is at the root of most of the pain and sorrow we experience here.

Competition for land, for food, water. Competition for mates and the resources to bring up children. Competition which has largely translated into greed, and fearful hoarding, and obsession with money, prestige and position in society.

Myself, I long ago dropped out of this competition. I do not compete with women for beauty. I do not compete with men for strength. I do not compete with anybody for quick thinking, slick talking or dynamic business prowess. I enjoy working at a job which brings me great pleasure, and I am hardly ever in actual need of more money than I have. I don't compete - not even with myself, anymore. For I have nothing to prove, to anyone, any longer.

I'm not too sure when this felicitous state of being came upon me, but it's been my way for years now. No strife, and that's got to mean, somewhere down the line, that I do less harm than I used to - or than someone who is still stuck in the grip of the competition mode.

So I was a bit puzzled at my reactions when, shopping in a whirl at Woolies in Melrose Arch this lunchtime - bread, yoghurt, cheese - I was stopped by a youngish albino man who asked me for a little help. "I'm a bit  short" he said, holding out some bank notes and a bottle of a very high SP factor sunscreen "I wonder if you could help me with the difference?"

Like most South Africans, I noticed an almost knee-jerk response which said, in big letters "This Man Is Trying To Con You". For we are so used, by now, to importunate beggars who nevertheless make a good living at their trade, and sly criminals trying to break through in any way they can to take what we have.

Something about this man - dry, flaky albino skin, cream frizzy hair and eyebrows, very nearly blind in his pink eyes - gave me pause, however. "Sure" I found myself saying. "Just let me finish my shopping and I'll meet you at the tills."

Still thinking that I was being had, I picked up the last of my shopping and found the young albino at the till line, waiting for me. On a complete impulse, I asked him to put all of his purchases (deodorant, a toothbrush, a pie and a bottle of Coke as well as the sunscreen) into my basket. I paid for all of it, still feeling vaguely like a patsy.
I was not too proud of myself when the cashier exclaimed that I was a very sweet person, and I asked her sotto voce "Does he do this often?". "Oh no" she replied "He often comes in here and buys his lunch. He's very fond of pie and Coke".

The young man waited and walked to the escalators with me. He wasn't overbearing with his thanks, in fact he seemed a bit stunned. He was a beggar, he told me - and could he have the till slip so the mall security wouldn't accuse him of stealing these goods? Shaken, I let him have the slip. When he told me that I was obviously a blessed person, I refrained from acknowledging that I was, in fact, God - just as he was - and merely told him that I had been there too. I had been on the streets, I said, and I knew how hard it could be.

And we parted. Myself feeling slightly tarnished for the protective, paranoid thoughts I had been having throughout the encounter.
We - some of us, and myself among the first in line - do so need to rid ourselves of all this fear and distrust of other humans.

Why  do we so often go in fear of ourSelves?

 Because, the answer comes, we often have cause to - and not all of us behave as if we were God.

It is almost a truism that other humans are not to be trusted, especially strangers...when it is most often those we think we know well who will end up hurting us the most deeply.

Ah, but just as God does not compete,so too S/he does not fear hirSelf. A lesson I must learn, and learn well.

Pic: Paranoia by Henning Büllier)