an old man said he’d pray for me today. it’s perhaps i who should pray for him. he sits wheelchair-bound, close to ninety years old and without a dime to his name, wrinkled and browned skin, missing several teeth, perpetual baseball cap hiding thinning grey hair, bulky winter coat over his crumbling frame, every morning in front of the church on my way to work. he’s there with a smile at quarter past six and gone by quarter past eight when i walk home. he greets those going into church for morning mass, often by name, and kisses their hand- literally or figuratively as that’s a hungarian greeting from men to women, ‘i kiss your hand’. he doesn’t ask for money, though some give it. nearly every morning for the past six months or so i’ve shared a five-minute chat with him on diverse topics- politics, the health system of which he’s all too familiar, youth and aging, family. his daughter died a couple weeks ago, and since then he’s got no one to take care of him, so i’ve helped him out of a few hard spots. it’s pure charity i suppose, but he’s been a good friend to me, brightened my day on numerous occasions, and i want to return the favor. last week i brought a big bag of thanksgiving leftovers, this week i paid an overdue gas bill he couldn’t manage. in return i got a lovely christmas card, a kiss on the hand, and an offer of prayer.

we’re taught to care for the poor, but not to give handouts on the street because ‘it will only encourage them.’ i’ve passed gruffly by hundreds of outstretched hands in my life already, and imagine i’ll meet with many many more in the near future. i told a hare krishna guy who was practically accosting passers-by in the street with his clipboard that i don’t give money to charity, explaining that i’m going to africa to be a teacher, giving my time and energy to a cause instead of just opening my purse. this issue of charity (do we do it only to make ourselves feel better about our materialist lives?) is one i’m not ready to take an opinion on just yet. for now i’m happy to have met pista, and i’m glad to see the smile on his face when i turn the corner.


~ by aliciawolcott on December 5, 2006.

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