A handful of years ago, in London, I walked out of a beautiful, butter-stoned hotel, opposite Hyde Park. Magic surrounded me. I’d just finished a spiritual course and I was full of love and joy. It was one of those beautiful afternoons when the world was drenched in light and the air was uncharacteristically warm (by Aussie standards).
People were standing on milk crates, speaking. I loved them. Families were throwing Frisbees at each other. I loved them too. I loved the cute little squirrels, the tacky paintings lining the fence, the warm weather, the fact that I was catching up with some of my kooky friends later on for a drink.
I was madly in love with the whole wide world.
Until I caught the tube home.
The train was crowded. An argument was taking place between a couple of backpackers. Someone, or something, smelled really bad. And then we got off-loaded because of a bomb threat and I had to catch an even more crowded bus home.
By the time I got to the Bush (Shepherd’s Bush), the love had gone.
Despite what I’d read and heard about all life being connected, I couldn’t find a way to include everyone around me, especially that weird-looking guy on the the train who kept staring. He was dressed in shabby clothes with long tangled locks of red hair, holding a wooden stick and he wouldn’t take his eyes off me. I figured he was probably the source of the bad smell.
I realised in that moment that although I could easily love family and friends, animals and kids and kind-faced strangers, the nasty ones, the bitchy ones, the stinky ones, they were almost impossible to love.
And it remained that way for over a decade.
During those years, something continued to whisper to me,
There is a different way of looking at people.
I struggled to find it. But I was determined. I devoured mountains of spiritual and religious texts. I also started writing fiction and it was here that I learnt to love the unlovable. I wrote three (dreadful) full length manuscripts full of characters that were cruel, selfish, evil and I worked hard to find the light in them. The process of bringing a character to life, even if they are flawed, ignites a sense of compassion in me. I wanted to believe that every soul contained the seeds of their own redemption.
And they do. Every well written character is both good and bad, a mosiac of different qualities, light and dark. Kind/unreliable. Cruel/honest. Fun/shallow. You get the idea.
And so too, humans.
One of the meanest people I’ve ever known, was also the one to come and fix the hole in my roof at three am when a storm brought a tree down. He stood in the howling wind and scary nail-throwing rain, in his Driza-Bone, a wet cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, smiling at me. Crazy man, I thought. But also a hero.
I discovered that we can soften our vision. We can suspend our judgements. Because, like us, other people are flawed and trying. Despite appearances everyone is struggling in their own way and trying to find a way forward.
That guy on the train, the scruffy one that wouldn’t stop staring. I saw him again, the week before I left London for Greece. He was hunched over on a park bench. Drunk, most likely, I thought. I knew it was him, even from a distance. My friend was driving in busy traffic. As we slowly drew closer to the guy, he got to his feet. I knew something magical was about to happen. A few metres away, he looked straight at me and smiled. The recognition was there for both of us. He spread his arms wide and bowed deeply. We continued to smile at each other as the car passed. It was the same guy, but I saw him with different eyes. And I know it sounds stupid, but I had the strangest sensation that I’d just met one of the many Angels living in London.
Since then, I’ve met many angels and demons, here and overseas, and I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme, most of them are very well disguised.
“Don’t criticise or judge other people – regard everyone else as an angel …”
– Fr. Seraphim Rose