“…no difference between us except degrees…”

I recently volunteered with a group to treat 81 homeless people to a holiday party in San Francisco. The party was the culmination of a day of providing these guests various services that most of us can enjoy and sometimes take for granted, like a haircut, new clothes, a chair massage, a make-over.

One of these homeless guests touched me deeply. She was the only one who seemed to have mental problems, and who required a lot of the volunteers’ attention. Seeing how Dorothy interpreted a small incident that happened that day, reflected back to me so powerfully the tricks that my mind can play on me sometimes when it encounters a difficult situation. Seeing Dorothy struggling with stored up pain and how her mind continued to add to the suffering gave me an incredible lesson about how my mind was distorting my experiences and adding to my own suffering. I wrote this poem about the experience:


at a party for the homeless
she was the only guest
who stank of urine
her salt and pepper hair
had three inches of faded pink at the ends
probably a former auburn from a bottle
her glasses half an inch thick
gave her startled fish eyes
a more tortured look
waiting for a tsunami
or the next blow to the head
she could have been 40
or 60 if she’d had more shelter
she was in her own circle
outside the outsiders
and angry about it
shaking anger
disguised as nervous ticks

she let me calm her
with a chinese chicken salad
a makeover and new clothes
a promise to give her a framed photo
to take to her only friend
hours later her fair complexion
was tinted with a touch of pink
her lips made full with a darker shade
the hair detangled
the clothes changed
the smell gone – I don’t know how
she waited patiently in a corner
for her framed portrait
as one homeless guest after another
picked out and cooed over his photo
when hers never materialized
the timid trembling mouth
disgorged a fireball of rage
the world had crashed on her head
again and again and again
why did you do this to me?
she screamed the wail of
someone impaled on a cross
again and again and again
why did I let you do this to me?
as we gathered around her

I’m going outside to kill myself

we offered consolation gifts
you’ve really fucked me up
all of you
we dispersed to give her space
someone whispered in her ear
No no no
I’ve been through too much already
I froze when I heard
amplified by her thunder voice
the screams that pass
in my head unnoticed
the anguish that has no voice
she magnified exaggerated
projected reflected right at me
distortions of a thick cloudy lens
stuck to my eyes and invisible
she ripped it off with her screams
there was no difference between us
except degrees

Gigi Hanna

copyright 2008 Gigi Hanna

Gigi Hanna writes:
“I live in San Francisco. I work in software for a living, and am also a writer and artist.
I volunteer with a social change group called : “A Good Idea”

Kindly contributed to Zen Moments by the author

Photo: Take Flight by Grant MacDonald

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday LifePeace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Average customer review:

“A perfect, simple, approachable introduction to mindfulness.

This book is simple and brief yet still manages to come to my mind nearly everyday, 6 years after I first read it. It is really a guide for everyone to be mindful every day; it shows how peace of mind is not a luxury nor unattainable without hours of silent meditation. If you are interested in the idea of meditation or finding a center for peace in your busy life, I recommend this book and this author wholeheartedly.
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“One of my all time favorites”  – Gigi Hanna

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