I reached for my wallet and quickly gathered a few coins with my fingers, hurrying, worried I would not make it before we pass the man on the bench. For a fraction of second I found myself in the limbo of indecision: to give or not to give. Part ashamed, thinking it insults him to see me looking through my purse for scraps, part confident that acknowledging his struggle through a small donation is the only way I can live with myself. Simultaneously, in that moment my ego took that turn for concern of what other people think: “Will my companions judge me for bothering them as I divide my attention to include a stranger, will they think me a hypocrite desperate to play ‘Mother Teresa ‘, or will they unjustly praise me, unaware of my internal conflict?”
My coins didn’t amount to much, half an ice cream, a coffee at best, but with a smile on my face I let them fall into the humble collection of coins in the cup placed at the mans feet. Thanking me, he encouraged me to come to a halt as also he grabbed for his wallet. My companion stopped two steps in front of me waiting, not impatiently, but waiting still, for me to receive a ‘reward’ for kindness that ought to go unpraised. Unsure how to feel about it, in this simple gesture the man gave me a powerful and genuine gift in return as he noticed me as well. Unlike the begging men who call ‘Bella, bella!’ after you, an acknowledgement that offers neither dignity nor serenity.
From his wallet the man pulled a perfectly handwritten note. It was a blessing. A prayer. A piece of worship to the ‘eternal light’ directed to my prosperity. Touched and confused, I read the note in Italian. I don’t believe in an eternal light, yet now the handwritten note stands atop my refrigerator as a small reminder not so much of the blessings, but of the humble nature and uncalled-for behaviour (I gave the coins unaware of its repercussion) shown of a man who has nothing. If he takes his time to bless me with whatever benevolence and limitations his God has given him, who am I to behave any less with all that has been given me?