Stories of Kindness from Around the World

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.   

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Readers Comments

dhenu wrote: Hi,what is the place of dignity in practical world. Practically its good to help. The needy is gettting help. Becose deeply receiver is giver. He is giving self satisfaction,happiness,and wholeness to giver by receivng help. So in real sense receiver is godly person,who gives feeling of wholness to giver. M i wrong?

FuzzyWuzzy wrote: Thank u so much for sharing your experience with us. It's a perspective i had not thought of until now upon reading your story. Maybe part of the good feelings i get from giving to others less fortunate ~ is from how "i" feel about myself after doing so? It should be about how "they" feel ~ not me. I will be sure to remember how the fellow felt in this story from now on.
megumi wrote: Thank you for this story. Sometimes people are angry at the world and there is little we can do but pray. But god knows our hearts and can use things we never know are used. You will never know how god may have used this. Even with the man you tried to help. Meg. Keep up the great work!
LOAS wrote: Thank you for this story. As i read it i thought, maybe your gift was not "for" the person you thought it was for, but for the person that actually ended up with it. :)
brian wrote: Hi jaydeebug.

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.
jaydeebug wrote: I want to thank all of you for your very kind comments but i think somehow i was not able to convey what the experience truly meant to me. The following is an excerpt: "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. "
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.

PayingForward wrote: Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story! I guess there can be a fine line between a hand-out and a blessing sometimes. Your gift was certainly meant as a blessing, but the man's heart may have become hardened in his situation. Maybe he has felt invisible for a long time and built a wall to try to protect himself from further hurt, lashing out in his pain rather than being able to accept a gift. To some what may be seen and received as a tremendously appreciated gift felt like a handout to this man who may have felt unworthy of a gift or at least unable to accept one. I believe that you were faithful and obedient in sharing love and kindness and I trust that the person who ultimately received your gift was truly blessed. You are right, too, that sharing a meal, a conversation or even a kind word helps us all feel valued. Everyone has a basic need to be loved and valued. May God bless your giving and receiving ... today and always. :)
JuneBug wrote: I recall the story wayfarer wrote about the beggar who was mad that she didn't get but what she felt was a few coins and he could have given more, which he did. Unlike the person you encountered and wanted to excitedly help. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we don't know what these people have gone through and I'm sure I would have gotten my feelings hurt as well. BUT you did the best thing bynot giving up and found others who did request the meals. Less people going hungry because you were there to serve and get more people through the line....Bless you for your efforts!!!! :}
cabbage wrote: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insight. I know what you mean about St. Anthony's too---because I was also blessed by being able to share meals with the people there and find out their stories. It makes such a difference to your outlook when you sit *with* someone. Thank you for sharing.
molly273 wrote: Thanks for sharing your insight.

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