This is Arnesto. I’m not sure if the spelling is correct as I’m spelling it phonetically, and please forgive the poor photo quality. It’s an unedited nighttime cellphone shot. Anyhow, we met unexpectedly this evening, and I’m not sure who was more startled. We didn’t see each other initially because I was on my bike and coasted silently up to my front steps and he was bent over and literally waist-deep in my neighbor’s recycling tote which is adjacent to my front steps. He heard me and he stood up quickly, startling me. It was awkward in that we were just a few feet from each other and I had to move to allow him to pass. I said hello to him as he passed and he responded the same in a heavy accent. After he passed I called to him, excuse me, I said, I don’t have any returnable bottles but please take this, and I held out my hand with a single dollar in it. I then went to go up my porch. But before I did I turned to watch, because Arnesto had set his bags on the ground and was kneeling in the street. He made the sign of the cross on his chest then stretched his arms skyward as he looked up and spoke quietly in what I recognized as Arabic. He stood again and gathered his bags. His back was to me and we were now maybe 15 feet apart. I called to him again, excuse me, I said. He turned and I said, as-salāmu ʿalaykum (which is Arabic for ‘peace be upon you”). His eyes lit up and he returned the greeting. He spoke some English, enough for us to communicate. He is from Sudan, he told me, and that he is finding it very difficult in America. More difficult than he had thought. But he is trying. He is Catholic, he also told me, and that when he was praying he was thanking God for the gift that he had just received. After I asked if I could take his photo I told him my name. When I held out my hand to shake his, he took his calloused hand and pulled mine to his chest. We were now inches from one another. Thank you so much, Joseph, he said in his heavy accent as our eyes locked. And then he said, in English, peace be upon you. And upon you as well, is all I could say as he turned and walked away. But what I was thinking inside was, namaste…the spark of the divine inside me recognizes the spark the divine in you, as I do believe that we all equally carry the same divinity within us. It’s also interesting to note that just before we met I was coasting on my bike and worrying about a few upcoming bills, and then Arnesto was so thankful for one single dollar. It really puts things in perspective. People are put in our paths for a purpose, I truly believe this. Yes, I may have helped Arnesto a little with my single dollar, but I received much more in return. And this is what happened this evening in the street in front of my house.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The New Colossus, inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
Written by poet Emma Lazarus