Frames (Alms for Americans)

“He should have left the air conditioning running!”

I complained to a friend as we sat in the hot back seat of a van.

We parked on a busy road in Sri Lanka so our driver could run into a store to buy us some fresh bottled water.  The water in the van was already warm from the sun.  I opened the window to get some air, right before I saw them.

Bleach white socks, shining like spotlights against the filthy background.

I smiled, happy to see something so clean.

It took more than a few minutes to notice that the man wearing these socks had no shoes, and even more time for my brain to register the blood red stains spreading across the bottom of his right foot.

I winced with him each time he put pressure on his injured foot.  He moved forward by leaning over on a too short cane, almost falling before pulling himself upright, only to lean over and repeat the slow circular process over again, one hard step at a time.

A three-wheeled cab interrupted my view and I shook my head, unsure about what I saw.

Vanishing acts are not magic.  A lack of any past experience with ships on a horizon rendered Columbus and his minions virtually invisible to the Native Americans standing on our shores. By the time their brains could assimilate the pattern of a ship, it was too late to stop the invasion.

I had no frame of reference for oppressive poverty.  I could only see the man in the socks because in my confusion, I stared for more than a few minutes.

As I blinked a dollop of sweat away, an old woman pushed her hand in through the open window, blocking my view again and begging for alms.   Another first.

I snapped a picture of her beautiful dirty hand, unable to stop myself from capturing the art.  She offered a half smile before she yanked her empty hand back to prevent being dragged as the van started to move, surprising both of us.

Later that same day, I had a once in a lifetime close up look at the eyes of an elephant in chains.

Like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, three lives crashed into the shores of my heart before my unprepared mind could assemble a defense.

The sights of Sri Lanka smashed my world into a ball small enough to fit on my narrow American path, and then these three stories kicked the heavy compact orb right into me, knocking me to my knees with the grounding force of reality.

I am grateful for a bloody sock, a dirty hand and cloudy eyes.  Two people and an animal with nothing to give, gave me everything.

As a typical American, I was the real beggar on the streets of Sri Lanka. I needed the life saving alms of a new world frame.

I should have plastered fragile stickers, all over my heart. The world got in there.

I am mindful as I carry it home.

Frames

3 Responses to “Frames (Alms for Americans)”

  1. Oh, Mary, such beautiful writing. So many incredible insights spoken so eloquently. “As a typical American, I was the real beggar on the streets of Sri Lanka.” And “The sights of Sri Lanka smashed my world into a ball small enough to fit on my narrow American path …” And “Two people and an animal with nothing to give, gave me everything.” Very inspiring. Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for commenting George! In Sri Lanka, everything was super cheap in my American eyes, but when I think about making 4 dollars a month ( like the talented Sri Lankan artisans I met) that changes my perspective. They built a beautiful expressway there, that could change so many lives, but the toll was 3 dollars. Prohibitive for most of the people there. The tollway was empty. It was so sad.

  3. I took a trip to Sydney, Australia a couple of years ago.
    I was shocked by the expense of common items there.
    A bottle of rubbing alcohol that I can buy here for $1.59 was $11.00 there! I could write my own story but will not take up this site for it.
    I am still frugal with my buying but I am OK with the prices I pay now.

Thank you for reading!

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