dignity and shame

A few nights ago I was having dinner with some friends when a panhandler approached our tables. It was raining. His hair was wet, white and sparse. He held his paper cup close to his chest but shook it a little. He said nothing.

I remembered a mother and a child who approached me and some friends over lunch some time ago. I gave them some money and my friend’s dad was unhappy. He said I was the reason they were begging. He said that they could find a job if they really wanted, but they were lazy. He said I should never give them money and encourage them to remain poor and lazy. I don’t remember saying anything after that.

So I stared at him. He came to my side. I don’t know what’s right or wrong, proper or inappropriate, but i took out my wallet. My friend who was sitting next to me said under his breath, “Sucker.” He took out his wallet as well. “Suckers,” I corrected him. When we dropped some money into his paper cup, the three of us smiled. Me, my friend and the old man. He still did not say a thing except bow and clasp his hands together to show thanks. He did it many times. He then went around our tables to shake our hands, even those who ignored him.

As he was walking away to another table, something in me wanted to know if there’s more. More to what, I don’t know. But I asked my friend if it’ll be fine if he joined us for dinner. My friend said yes. So we invited him to sit with us. If there’s something you need to know about Chinese dinners is that food is communal. The same spoon you drink your soup with will be the same spoon you use for any other dish. Saliva and Hepatitis. Mmmm.

As he was eating, he was also gesturing how much each dish would cost and the price of the dinner. He wrote on the table with his finger. He was pretty good at math. I was moved when I saw my friends mounting food on his bowl like he was our grandpa and we were his grandchildren. Very lovingly and respectfully.

He finished his meal and got up to thank us again. One by one, he shook our hands. Instead of begging at another table for more money, he walked off. All he wanted was money to buy food, I suppose. I don’t know why he chose to panhandle or if he had any choice, but I do know that he was full when we looked at him, fed him and acknowledged the dignity we failed to see in him at first impression. As a man, as a person and as a human being.

Some people say that beggars are shameless. It’s true and I want to embrace that. I don’t deserve so much of what I have right now and I don’t really own anything. Breath itself is a gift. I want to have my hands open, waiting to receive than fold them tightly over my chest, thinking I’m too good or great or noble to humble myself to be like a child pauper.

So here’s to whatever 2008 has to offer. May whichever road you take lead you to love and hope. As for me, I will remain a sucker.

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13 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Wow this post was very beautiful indeed just like all your other posts and photographs. Thankyou for sharing. I hope you have a great year in 2008, a year filled with joy and happiness.

  2. thundered cat

    thank you, stranger. i wish the same for you :)

  3. Anonymous

    you are a beautiful person. To have opened yourself up enough to invite him in is a powerful thing. I can only hope that I can do half of what you did in one evening in the whole of next next year.

  4. thundered cat

    thank you for your kind words. i’m only doing what has been done to me… it was grace rendered.p/s: do leave your name next time :)

  5. Joann

    beautiful.i don’t think it’s up to me to judge that what i give will be used “inappropriately” (whatever that means). and most of the time, that’s just a cover for my own selfishness.i want to be more of a sucker in 2008, too.

  6. thundered cat

    thank you, joann. happy 2008 to you :)

  7. gks

    Awesome post. You have my respect! Don’t think i’m even able to do this…Just a thought, maybe Jesus sat on the table with you that day :-)What an honour…

  8. zo-cat

    gks, it makes me think of Hebrews 13:1+2 “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it” which references Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ You did exactly that, and I’m humbled and challenged by it. I also second joann. We can reason it away all we want to.

  9. zo-cat

    …and yep, I’m stalking you here as well as flickr and virb XDDon’t worry though, I’ve only killed one person I’ve stalked before :P

  10. thundered cat

    thanks for the perspective, zo :)i hope your stalks have been worthwhile!

  11. whatsinaname

    i found you : )
    i actually tried to get into myamar about 1.5 months ago… made it to the border and realized that the procedure to enter was unusually complicated. i must go back. what are you doing over there? is it as people say it is??

  12. rachelchew

    thanks anonymous :)
    what do people say it is?

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