Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Have a Heart

A few days ago, I was walking through an underpass in Orchard with G. On the floor, sat this beggar who oddly didn't fit the profile of a beggar. Though it was only a cursory glimpse, I thought he looked pretty young (20's?), healthy and fit with 4 able limbs, and sporting a crew cut and decent plastic spectables.

His placard read, "FAMILY BROTHER SISTER NO MONEY PLEASE DONATE".

I would never donate a single cent to him because he looks perfectly capable of supporting himself and his family, no matter no many mothers, brothers and sisters he has to feed. He could attend those job fairs that local CDC's organize regularly in the heartlands targeted at the unemployed by providing them job opportunities and subsidized rates to equip themselves with new skills.

But bigger questions remain: Why beg? What drove this seemingly able-bodied man to swallow his pride and dignity? Is the money that good?

I wonder if I am conveniently assuming that he is capable of supporting himself.


This morning, I was on a bus heading home with my breakfast of hot, steaming pau's. Along the way, a smelly-looking and probably homeless old man boarded the bus. He had white wispy hair and dark leathery skin and was clad in scruffy clothes - a cheap white cotton t-shirt and blue berms. From the way he shuffled slowly and painfully down the aisle, he must have been suffering from some ailment, either in the back or in his legs. I didn't notice whether he had money or an EZ-link card to pay for his bus fare.

What perturbed the most was that a middle-aged lady, garbed in presentable office attire and seated 2 rows in front of me, immediately shifted from the inner seat to the outer one, preventing this old man from sitting next to her. While her calculated gluteal maneuver was not accompanied with outright haste or a vehement show of disgust, her intention was clear - right to the edge of the cushion squashed beneath her comfort.

Then the old man shuffled nearer and it occurred to me that he might want to sit next to me. Nostrils instantly flaring, I tried to detect whiffs of homeless, unbathed putridity. I recall how once in Hong Kong, I passed a hobo who reeked of feces. The old man stopped and leaned against the side of the bus, with only about 2 rows of empty standing space between us. I couldn't smell anything.

Double phew.

I sat there, contemplating the reactions of both myself and the lady. What if he's really poor and unbearably hungry, and the smell of my food agitates him into snatching it? I further wondered if I should offer him half my breakfast but decided against it. How do I really know that he's homeless and too poor to buy his own food? What if he feels insulted, spits and rails at me in Hokkien?

Before I got up to walk past him, I positioned my food on my left, away from him, and tried to walk as naturally as possible as I got off the bus.

Horrible thoughts for an able-bodied and educated young male. Am I actually cowardly and selfish? At least I'm honest about it, are you?


It takes a whole lot of courage and genuine love to embrace this old man, to acknowledge him as an equal human being, and to offer him help. Now you know why we need to be prompted and reminded to pay it forward.

And if sympathy ever afflicts us, we are only willing to offer our money, not our precious time and manicured hands. Even then, death-defying stunts performed by celebrities and luxurious lucky draw prizes are needed to motivate us to loosen our purse strings tied firmly around our hearts.

Lyrics of Hands by Jewel

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all OK
And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn't steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn't ever after
We'll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what's right
'Cause where there's a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
I am never broken
In the end only kindness matters
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's mind
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's heart
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's eyes
We are God's hands
We are God's hands

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