Starved for Dignity

The beggar in downtown Jerusalem taught me that the greatest gift we can give each other is the gift of acceptance. It might seem like a small step, but in choosing to affirm human dignity – to accept people because they are people – we inadvertently declare war on one of the most consistent violators of human freedom

Many years ago I was walking in downtown Jerusalem and came to a major intersection where I had to wait for the pedestrian light to turn green. In that short minute, an old, hunchbacked beggar shuffled up to the crowd of delayed pedestrians and began shaking his little coin-filled plastic cup in our faces – something all of us tried very hard to ignore. I was relieved when the light turned green and I could hurriedly walk away from this awkward encounter. But as I reached the other side, the sudden blaring of car horns made me turn my head, and I was horrified to see the old man slowly limping his way across the busy street. Muttering under my breath, I ran into the street, grabbed the beggar by his elbow, and led him to safety. Feeling a touch of guilt, I grabbed a few coins from my pocket and tossed them into the beggar’s hand. But before I quite understood what was happening, he gently placed the coins back into my hand, leaned forward and whispered, “Thank you – for touching me,” before slowly making his way to another group of delayed pedestrians.

I stood there, in the midst of all the city’s chaos, completely stunned.

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