Love in the Open Hand

Written By: Cristina Sedigo

I cannot hold back the tears running down my face as I sit down on the sands of the umbrella beach in Montauk one sunny day. Montauk, my home for a few years now, is a small fishing village at the East End of Long Island. Many describe it as a small paradise, revealing nature at its best. Here, you can still wake up to the sounds of crashing ocean waves, or chirping birds, whether it be robins, bluebirds, or cardinals. To us who live here, it is just an ordinary sight to watch seagulls fly flawlessly up in the sky, squirrels and bunnies scampering along trails, and families of deer peeking out behind shrubberies, happily munching on grasses and tree leafs. Yet here I am, crying my heart out, oblivious to the beautiful gifts of nature unraveling around me.
At this point in my life, I am tired and weary of facing life’s challenges on my own, deeply missing my family who live so far away. I am alone, without family here. Life is tough for me, struggling to make ends meet and still send whatever little money I can save to help pay for the medical care of my bedridden mom. Nevertheless, my sacrifices here are worth it, because it is an act of love.
I look up in the sky and imagine my dad up there, looking sadly down upon his forlorn daughter. I ask myself, if my dad could speak to me right now, what would he impart to me, to lift my spirit and alleviate the pain in my heart?
As I think about this, memories of conversations with my dad flash through my mind. He used to tell me that the most important thing in life is not how much wealth, property, prestige, political affiliations, or social connections you have accumulated, but how much difference you can make in someone’s life. When I complained of being lonely and wishing for a little joy in my life, his reply was, “Do not seek to be happy, because what makes you happy may not always be good. Seek to do good, because doing good will always make you happy.” He added that to be happy, I have to give love in the open hand.
Like him, I read the poem “Love in the Open Hand” from the sonnets of St. Vincent Millay. It spoke of real love, the gift of true self, being all there in the open hand. When you offer love in the open hand, you give what you have even if it is very little. Unafraid of sacrifice, you forget your fears and try to reach out to people. You make yourself vulnerable, open to the risk of rejection, hurt, or pain. You give your all in the open hand.
Deep in thought, I contemplated past events in my life when I had followed my dad’s advice. I thought of the time I offered to pay the fare of a man who got onto the Montauk train from Patchogue. The train conductor was berating him for not having enough money to pay the full fare to his destination. He was told to get off at the next stop. With the last of my money I offered to help him, because I could not bear to watch his embarrassment. Another time, I gave away the fried chicken that I had bought from Herb’s Market to two young children helping their mom clean the church. I heard the girl complain to her mom that she was hungry. I told myself that they needed the food more than I did, and I was glad to give it all to them.
But what really struck my mind were the memories of my encounters with two homeless people passing through Montauk. The first was a girl named Petri. She was a pretty girl, with dark skin, brown eyes, and curly hair. She looked about eighteen, but she told me she was twenty-eight. She wore shorts and a loose sleeveless top. Each time she approached me begging for alms to buy food, I gave her a little money, and at the same time bought her a sandwich. Sadly, she was addicted to alcohol. When I saw her walking drunkenly along the street, I bought her coffee and a muffin. From then on I did not give her money, and instead bought her food.
She tried to seek shelter at the basement of St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk. However, there were concerns of her stealing from the church, and the risk of injury if she ever fell down the steps while drunk. As churchgoers, we were divided on the issue of how to deal with a homeless person seeking refuge inside our church. As for me, all I felt was pity and the need to show compassion, kindness, and love. I prepared for her a small traveling bag of clothes. Inside, a pair of jogging pants, socks, and long sleeved tops. I added a hooded jacket, a small blanket to keep her warm and some grooming things, such as a comb, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, wet wipes, and shampoo.
I gave the bag to her when I saw her at the front steps of the church. Behind us, someone yelled at her to get out of the church and not come back. She was told that she was not welcome there. I barely held on to my own tears as she clung to me tightly, sobbing helplessly on my shoulder. I felt her pain and despair. In my eyes Petri, who was already broken in spirit and mind, needed love rather than hostility. I led Petri away and brought her to a Chinese restaurant. After eating, she excitedly changed into her new clothes. She hugged me tightly and kissed me many times on the cheeks. I will never forget the expression of light on her face.
The last time I saw her was when I accompanied her to the Hampton Jitney bus to help pay her fare to Manhattan. She wanted to go back to her daughter’s house in Queens. I gave her a sandwich and drink to take with her. I paid the driver myself and asked him to make sure Petri got off in Manhattan. I had given Petri a little money for her subway fare to Queens. I was touched when the driver ran after me as I was leaving to thank me for what I did. He said it was a nice thing for me to do. I told him that it was the decent thing for me to do, and I was glad that I did it.
On the other hand, my encounters with a homeless man named Maurice, who called himself Jesús, were very challenging. How do you give love to a difficult person? People found him irritating and obnoxious. He had dark skin and curly hair, usually tied in a ponytail and dressed in long pants and t-shirt. He carried with him to church four or five bags. He would choose the front pew to sit in during the mass. He sang loudly and raised his arms up high to pray out loud. He used the only toilet in the church for a long time, in spite of the long line waiting. When you gave him clothes and food, he was very choosy.
I was determined to show kindness to him. I gave him my favorite chocolates and his eyes glowed with happiness. Like with Petri, I gave him a bag of clothes and added some canned goods. He gave back some of the clothes, saying that they did not represent him, and haughtily told me, “How will I open the cans without a can opener?” I almost rolled my eyes, as I muttered to myself, “I thought beggars are not supposed to be choosy.”
Still, I persisted in showing kindness and friendship. One day, he surprised me by giving me a magazine and some kale. He said to me, “Thank you, I see Jesus in you.” Those were the most uplifting words ever said to me. It was unforgettable.
As I reflect on the past events in my life, I realize I have stopped crying. In fact, I am smiling and feeling lighthearted. I gaze up in the sky and whisper, “Thank you Dad. You taught me to love the person, no matter what race, religion, status, culture, or skin color. To reach out and make a difference. With a little act of love, I am now a happier person, because I learned to give love in an open hand.”