Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tonight I saw a man

Taken from last night's entry on my prayer journal...

19 September 2006

Tonight I saw a man go hungry. I was eating at a turo-turo, one of those stalls by the street that sell the cheapest food. I was well on my way towards devouring my pork chop when I noticed an old man sit on the other side of the squarish store, directly across me.

He was an old man, obviously poor. He wasn’t a beggar, his clothes pegged him more as a construction worker – a job he was far too old to bear. I noticed him because he was carrying his money on his hand (a singular P20 bill) even before he ordered. I knew right then that he was poor, because only those that fear they cannot afford what they want flaunt their money – a nonverbal message to the seller that this is all that they have.

An attendant brought him one cup of rice and the old man talked to him. I couldn’t hear them because they were quite far from me, and also because the rain was violently pouring down all around us. I couldn’t hear them but I knew what they were talking about because the same conversation ran through my head a thousand times before.

“How much?”
“This much.”
“This is all that I have…”
“Then you cannot have it.”

I wanted to help. I forgot my own hunger and I wanted to call the attendant and tell him to give the old man whatever he wanted and I’ll pay for it. This was a cheapo store – paying for the old man’s dinner would hardly be a sacrifice.

But thoughts assailed my head that glued me to my seat.

“This is a MAN – a working man… he would mind unsolicited help.”
“What if you embarrass him by offering to help? You’ll hurt the feelings of the old guy.”
“Are you even sure what you’re thinking is true? What if you come barging in there all pompous when it turns out he doesn’t need your help at all? Wouldn’t that make you an ass?”

Drowned in those thoughts, I was caught unready when the old man suddenly left and braved the rains. The attendant took back the rice, and I was left in my impotence. In my effort to be nice, I failed to do what was good.

I hailed the attendant and asked him what he and the old man talked about.

“He asked how much was the rice. P6, I said. Then he asked if that already included a viand. Of course I said no. Then he said I could take back the rice now because he wasn’t hungry anyway.”

Rage and sadness filled my heart. I was angry at my incompetent, corrupt government. I was angry at the rich for not sharing their excess to the poor. I was angry at the store for turning down a man as old as he. I was even angry at Adam and Eve for plunging this world into fallen-ness.

But I was not raised to overlook my own shortcomings. I was most angry at myself because I didn’t help. Because I was too slow. Because I was too weak to do what needed to be done.

When did doing good merit a second thought? When did helping those in need give way to squeamishness? When did we become so familiar to worldliness and self-absorption that we get paralyzed with uncertainty when the right thing intrudes in our heads?

Tonight I was angry at the world for the suffering that humanity endures. But tonight I am more horrified at myself – that old man went home wet and hungry because I was too nice to do what was right.

Mat 25:40 "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.'

* Photo taken from Shutterstock


Anonymous said...

I share your frustration. There have been many times where I could have done something, but fear (irrational most of the time)of embarassing other people, or getting embarassed myself prevented me from doing anything.

One time, when we were still in college, while along shaw blvd., i saw an old man asking people for an additional P40 i think. He said he just wasn't able to bring enough money to get to his son in laguna, and so the bus driver let him off here. Nobody took notice, and I saw the old man nearly burst out in tears.

I had but P200 in my pocket. I went to talk to him and found out he had been there since morning. It was now 5pm. he had spent the whole day there, and nobody helped.

I asked him to join me, and we wen't and ate at jollibee. I found he had been estranged from his son, and wanted to visit to make peace. After our meal, all I had left was P120. I took the twenty and gave the old man the rest. I helped him board a bus, and when the bus left, he leaned out the window and waved. I too got on my bus, hopped out at philcoa and walked home, with about P9 left.

I never knew his name, I never asked. I never knew what happened to him, I have no idea if he made it to his son. I'd like to think every now and then that he made it though, just so I can have my very own fairy tale ending. But the truth is I'll nver really know.

Don't be mad at yourself, at least the thought came across your mind and your heart. Others would have just scoffed and looked away. Next time, you'd be presented with the same scenario again, and you'll have a chance to do something about it, I'm sure.

wrigley said...

this happens to all of us so often....and we can never bring back that moment to change what happened...that's what's sad.

it made me cry and tremble...

lala said...

not too late...learn from this and make sure to act the next time (better be called an ass for offering unsolicited help, than lose the opportunity to inspire hope in others)

{illyria} said...

i don't think you should beat yourself up over one experience, which i feel was a learning experience. what do you think about looking for that same man again? maybe talking to the attendant beforehand? telling him you'll pay for whatever he orders should he pass by?