Busing at the Berlaymont

Something’s happening today; mobile fences are everywhere. Barbed wire covers one side of X-shaped barriers – a design to keep certain people inside and others out. Pedestrians snake the congested sidewalks of the Berlaymont building, home to the EU Commission. No one stumbles, falls, scratches themselves, and mothers maneuver strollers while guiding children.

Faces don’t register shock, dismay, horror, which I feel in oscillating degrees. The surveillance camera directed at the bus stop feeds my worry: something awful will happen here sometime. I stare at the camera above the Schuman roundabout, which watches the movements around the Berlaymont. My bones prefer not be here, and I consider using the stop before Schuman in the future.

A stonewall curves between the pathway surrounding the Berlaymont and the roadside sidewalk. This afternoon – as many times – someone sits roadside, leaning against the stonewall, holding out a cup of coins. Without acknowledging her presence or request, people deftly navigate the space between her and the forked fences.

My standard offer to people asking for money is food, but I ate my apple and banana for lunch. So instead I give coins, an overture to hold her hand, which she allows. She speaks but I don’t recognize her language. I am waiting for the bus to take me away from the barbs and busy bodies.

This person asks the world to give something, unlike the man who I saw upon arriving in Brussels this morning. He walked beyond the stonewall, along the pathway around the Berlaymont. Grey hair tangled his face. Like many pedestrians, his clothes were black. Their layers, though, contradicted the summer sunshine.

The man reminded me of my uncle, who I posted a letter to yesterday. He is institutionalized in a mental-health facility back in the States. The diagnosis of schizophrenia came for him while incarcerated. For most of his life, he’s lived in a cell behind a barbed fence and a locked door, what some people call ‘secure.’

When I saw the man walking alongside the Berlaymont, I purposed to pass ahead of him and sit next to an empty stroller. As he neared me, I laid out fruit and a thermos of tea in invitation. Our eyes met, and he nodded in greeting. As he kept on, I quipped, ‘S’il vous plait.’ He grumbled, brushing away my words with his hands.

I watched the holes at the back of the man’s knees and thought, ‘World done him so bad he won’t break bread with a stranger.’ Many of us won’t, of course, but for other reasons. Our days get so full, what we call ‘busy’ or ‘insane.’ We’ve ‘had it’, are ‘full of it’ – words, actions, expectations. And we are done.

For most in my family, our lives are full without my uncle. In honesty, my contacting him is a recent response to a prompt from within – Spirit, the Light, the Universe. I know that extending care to him honors my late grandparents. Possibly it extends the open sky to him behind walls of many kinds. Maybe it even honors all humans abandoned by humans.

The stroller next to the Berlaymont had made its way to the roadside by afternoon. A baby carriage alongside barbed-wire fences disturbed me, as does the surveillance camera’s pretense of security. I consider how too often we are too full in mind, body, and soul – not open to the moment, to the individual, to the ordinary and exceptional.

During prayer or meditation, I visualize skin sloughing or scales dropping to reveal the Light within – Spirit, the Universe. It is beautiful, the Light residing in each of us, whether or not we are leaning on stonewalls or barbed fences. It is this Light that connects us all.

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