To say the month thus far was tough and testing would be an understatement. Ailment or death struck close to home. A few times in short succession.
In times of such great tumult it is common to review the life that has just past, or the one that was tested or our own for that matter. Such serious life events invariably cause us to search for purpose and meaning.
Sadness and concern or loss cause us turn our energy inward and think, far more so than happiness. It seems that we need a crisis to make us appreciate what we have and what we’ve lost.
When I grew up, life experiences were passed on among generations by means of stories, myths, fables and legends. Every story had a moral lesson – something to tell us that it is better to do good than to be unkind. These stories were simple and were carefully constructed around everyday incidents and invariably they contain at least two opposing characters: one kind and good, and the other unkind and with impure intent. The odds are stacked against the kind, yet in the end, they always triumph. And there in lies the moral of the story – kindness always triumphs over the unkind irrespective of the odds.
Just last week I observed a young lady scold an old beggar in one of the city’s parking lots. From the quality of her cloth, the size of her bracelets and rings, and the car she alighted from, I guessed that she might be well-off. Much better off than the beggar who accosted her with a delighted request for some spare change. A crafty old bugger he was too. He complemented her looks with good intent and truthfulness. Oh yes, she was rather pretty. Then he asked for only a small amount. All he wanted was enough for a bite to eat and maybe, just maybe, some Kaalgat. Yet, despite his careful craft, she was scornful. Condescending and unkind. Three times she interrupted her journey; turned back each time to pummel his ears some more. Her insults were aimed mainly at artifacts hidden below his belt and between his ears.
My presence must have caught her off-guard. She explained that they know each other and that she always makes these jokes with him. With that she handed him a two-figure banknote and disappeared down the escalator. He, on the other hand, could not believe his luck. “Jirre mineer. Kyk net soe!”
This incident reminded me of a story I was told many years ago.
A hungry and thirsty beggar arrived at the house of a very rich woman and asked for something to eat and drink. The rich woman ordered her servants to get rid of the beggar. One female servant who was quite ugly felt pity for the beggar and secretly gave him some bread and water. To repay her kindness he gave her his only possession, a dirty old handkerchief. The next morning before service, she washed her face using the handkerchief. Upon arrival at the rich woman’s breakfast table, she was met with sheer shock and disbelief. Thinking there must be something on her face, she wiped it again with the handkerchief. More shock and disbelief. When she looked in the mirror, she saw the reason for the shock and disbelief – she was a pretty as a girl could be. Her ugliness was gone.
When asked by the rich lady, she explained that she fed the beggar and gave him water and that she wiped her face with his handkerchief. The woman grabbed the handkerchief and wiped her own face. But, no change, her face remained the same.
At once the rich woman sent all her servants to bring all the beggars in the city to her house for a feast of fine food and drink. She fed them and gave them wine. When they had their fill she demanded their handkerchiefs. No beggar bar one had a handkerchief. With the first wipe with his handkerchief, her face became black. Ever darker the more she wiped.
The moral of the story: a good deed done for selfish reasons can never be an act of true kindness. True compassion cannot be forced and requires a pure heart.
Sadly we do not tell stories like this anymore. Instead, we are being fed fairy tales and fables that were given a modern, violent makeover on TV or in the movies. In recent times the Grimm brothers have become grim indeed.
I continue to mourn the loss of the elderly companions who passed on this month. With them, we have lost irreplaceable custodians of our food, our traditions and our stories. But more importantly, we have lost pure hearts filled with true compassion, and judging by the behavior of the pretty young lady in the parking lot, we could all do with an extra helping of kindness.
And that is the moral of this story.