A Lesson in Dignity
--by jaydeebug, posted Dec 21, 2008
Everyday as I drove through town, I saw a one-legged man going through ash cans for cigerette butts and trash cans outside of fast food restaurants looking for food. It was only a month before Christmas, starting to get cold (I lived in a town that was over 6,000 ft. altitude) and I could not quit thinking about him. It was a year where we didn't have enough money to really have much in the way of presents but I figured what was too little for us would be a lot for someone who had nothing.
So I bought a brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, pack of cigerettes, cans of tuna, just little things that didn't cost much and then I added a blanket and sweatshirts. I made a box up like a present and went in search of this man. I saw him hobble away from the dumpster next to McDonalds. I pulled over, grabbed the box and went up to him. I said, "I would like to give you a Christmas present, there are some food items in here and some things you might be able to use."
He sidestepped around me and said, "No thank you, I just had lunch. I don't need anything." Then he hobbled on down the sidewalk, leaving me standing there in tears. I took the box down to a little shop that gave things out to the poor and homeless and told them what had happened and asked that they give the box to someone who could use it. The person there said not to be upset and let my feelings be hurt as I was still crying. I told her I was not crying for me but for him because what I had done was take away his dignity by treating him like a person in need. I was so ashamed. What a great lesson for me to learn, though.
A few years later I was able to volunteer for a day in St. Anthony's Dining Room in San Francisco where 1,500 to 2,000 homeless are fed everyday. These folks give up their sleeping spot, carry everything they own and stand in line for up to 6 hours to receive the only food they will get to sustain themselves for a 24 hour period. We took one tray of food at a time, and treated them as if they were in a restaurant ordering a meal they were paying for. And when we took our break, we would sit down with one of them and talk and share our food with someone if we had too much.
Since that time, I have had the opportunity, rephrase that, the blessing of being able to sit down and visit with people who at the time just happen to be displaced. I have heard that statistically, the majority of us could not make it if we had to go two months without an income and homelessness were to happen to us. Speaking for me, yes, that would be true and my immediate reaction would be like the first gentleman I mentioned. I might have nothing else but I would want to maintain my dignity as long as possible.
Tough insight, but accepting help is sometimes harder than giving it. But I have also learned a very good lesson about that as well. Someone said to me at one time, "Please let me help you, don't take away MY blessing." And in that statement lies the whole truth of Paying It Forward. I have to accept so I can pass it on!
Have a wonderful giving and accepting day.
Thanks for this wonderful story, and your courage in sharing it.
Perhaps we who like to give might tak a little time to get to know the people who we wish to help.
Assistance may be more easily received if we take the time to know the person. A greeting, a few questions about them, a listening ear,a caring heart may be even greater gifts than the material assistance we so often bring.
And please don't stop the giving because of one experience. Everyone has a different perception of the world and receiving.
It was not a bad experience for me, nor were my feelings hurt. The lesson was for me to learn how to give in a way that allowed those on the receiving end to still have dignity and not feel like a beggar. You know the expression "presentation is everything. " ? It could apply here as well. In a different incidence, i asked the woman if she would join my son and i for dinner, which she did. She said that had never happened before, that there were people who bought her a hotdog or sandwich or gave her money to buy her own, but no one had ever asked her inside to eat with them. My lesson was to know that it is fairly easy to give money or things but time and empathy are sometimes the greater gift.
Again, thank each of you for sharing your thoughts.