I once had the opportunity to serve at a homeless shelter. It was dinnertime and a line was forming outside. One of the people who ran the shelter asked me to go and see if they wanted anything or needed to talk.
So, I began to walk up the line, asking, “Do you need anything? Do you need to talk?” One by one, either people ignored me or responded, “I’m okay, thanks man.”
Out of the blue, a man in line grabbed me, looked up with bloodshot brown eyes, and said, “God is going to burn us up, the end of the world is here, our sins will be punished, this is the end of the world. God is angry.”
I just listened, mindful of right now, following my breath. I had no idea what to say, if anything. He continued: “No one is getting away with anything, no one. People walk around like no one can see what they are doing, but God can, God can. This is the end.”
He stopped and looked at me. His eyes were full of fear, like a scared little boy in a grown man’s body.
Without a thought in my mind, I looked back at him and said, “I love you.”
I couldn’t believe what I’d said. The man looked at me and started to cry. Under his tears, he said, “Love me?”
I said, “Yes, God loves you and me. I mean we’re brothers on this planet. I don’t know if the world is ending or God is angry. I don’t know. But I would like to think he or she loves us, and I am sure that if God was listening to you as I am right now, that he or she would say, ‘I love you.’”
We hugged, and he cried.
Although I didn’t believe in that gentleman’s God or the world ending or us being punished as a whole, what I did know was this: beyond our stories and beliefs is unconditional love. So, it didn’t matter if we disagreed on the surface. Simply by deeply listening to the gentleman, I was able to meet him with compassion, kindness, and love. I was able to be there for him, completely present and fully focused on what was happening.
This experience taught me that we are connected beyond our stories, beyond our perceptions, and beyond our beliefs of each other, God, and the world. It taught me that the bridge is unconditional love and that unconditional love is found in our listening.
As I listened deeply, there was no story of him and I as separate beings. As I listened deeply, there was only authentic compassion and kindness overflowing from the deep fountain of unconditional love that we both were and are living in, right here, right now. And that, I’ve found, is all that really matters.