Shaking Hands with the Lepers

When he (the rickshaw driver) introduced me to his father, I had no idea he would be homeless, let alone a leper. I reached out to shake his father’s extended hand. His fingers were rough and different sizes and lengths, as if part of them had rotted off. I held his hand and thought of the scene from Papillon, where the leper hands Steve McQueen his cigar and Steve McQueen puts it in his mouth and takes a long drag off of it. The leper asks him, “How did you know my leprosy was dry?” And Steve McQueen says, “I didn’t.”

I put my hand in my pocket and made a mental note not to touch my face or anything until I washed my hand real good. Like you can just wash off leprosy. Good thinking.

I had seen the man’s father around town. Everywhere he went, he had his skinny yak with him. It was his only possession.

April 20, 2006
Mysore, India



Yoga Asylum #2 – Tree Huggers and Tree Haters

As most of you know, I teach a yoga class in a park in Los Angeles. These classes started over 15 years ago. We were the first to have regularly scheduled classes in a park. Now everybody does and it’s no big deal.

I walked into the class area one morning and two young men were standing by a palm tree. One of them was punching and kicking the tree. His hands were bleeding and the other guy was egging him on. Some of my students had already shown up and they were watching, with horrified looks on their faces.

I’m going to admit I was a little pissed that this guy was beating on this tree. I definitely wanted him to stop and go away.

I walked up and put my mat down a few feet from the tree (where I always set up) and the guy with bloody hands says, “WHAT? Am I in your way?”

I say, “No. You’re fine. But what did that tree ever do to you?” Which, now that I think about it, was just about the worst possible thing I could have said.

Some of the students laughed out loud and someone yelled, “Stop kicking that tree! You look like an idiot!”

The guy turned to me and said that age-old phrase, “You got a problem?”

I was standing there holding my kombucha bottle. I refill it every day because I hate plastic and it makes less trash. But I’m thinking, “Oh shit, this guy kicking and punching the tree with his bloody hands is going to try and fight me.” My second thought was, “When he attacks, smash him in the head with your kombucha bottle.” I instantly saw a headline: “Local Yoga Teacher Breaks Kombucha Bottle Over Head of Potential Student”.

This seemed like a bad thing to me and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to resolve the situation so I could teach my class. I thought, “This yoga teaching job is getting dangerous.”

I stepped back a little and realized the guy with the bloody hands was not only a little messed up, he was now trapped and possibly embarrassed… all these yoga people looking at him wanting him to leave and stop beating up a tree.

I remembered reading “The Art of War” and it said to always give your enemy an escape. In that moment, I began to understand why. If someone has their back against the wall—even if it’s just an emotional/ego thing—they will fight to the death. I did not want that. Even with my deadly kombucha bottle.

I asked his name and surprisingly he told me. I said, “Oscar, I’m sorry this got out of hand and that I may have seemed confrontational,” then extended my hand and, again to my surprise, he shook it and began to walk out of the class.

As he walked out he continued to look back over his shoulder. I kept thinking he was going to change his mind and run back and tackle me.

But he didn’t. So I taught my class. I felt lucky.


Written by Daniel Overberger

Edited by Nancy Winebarger