Some time ago, I got a call from a neighbour of mine. She was at the bank and sounded quite perturbed, “Bob,” she said, “there’s a poor man outside the bank, bleeding from the leg, can we do something?” A few moments later we loaded the man into my car and drove to a friend’s hospital. He groaned and moaned behind on the rear seat, and we knew he was in great pain.
At the hospital, an orderly with a wheel chair was already down, and we lifted him gently from car to the chair. As we did, we noticed that one stubborn hand of his, was not being too helpful in holding onto the wheelchair, but was going in a spastic like movement back to his shoulder. Irritably I put his hand down, as it didn’t help in his being lifted up, but again the hand moved jerkily to his shirt. We watched as with a tremendous effort he dipped his fingers into his pocket, took something out and slipped it into my hand. Startled, I looked at what he had given; it was a five-rupee note. Both my neighbor and I had tears in our eyes.
I slipped the money back into his pocket as he was taken up for treatment.
A little later as we drove away, we were quiet, “You know something,” said my neighbour, “I nearly burst into tears when the man pulled out that money! That was all he had, and he was giving it to us, for helping him!”
“I wish I had not given it back!” I said in hindsight, “That was his dignity, his self-respect!”
His clothes were rags, hair straggly, coarse beard unkempt. Must have been a rag picker who a while earlier had sold some small scrap to get that money. But it was important for him to give it to me saying silently, “Thank you for helping me, but I am also a man just like you, with my own self-respect and dignity!”
I think these are the words that we haves of the world, need to listen to. That, the man on the street, the poor in their shanties, your driver, your maid, the one who lifts your garbage demands respect.
“We don’t want your charity,” says the maidservant or driver, or your garbage cleaner as he or she watches you acting disdainful, as you keep your social distance from them during this covid period, and hand them groceries for their sustenance, “We want our dignity!”
My thoughts return to the destitute man from the streets, the fiver he laboriously pulled from his pocket, I wish I had been sensitive enough to have taken his money; I would have helped him keep his amour-propre intact..!
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