A Question of Dignity

I know happiness and I know heartbreak. Failure has kissed my lips and wrapped its arms around me- but victory hasn’t ever been a stranger to me either. I have a closet full of trophies and more than memories of triumph. I have loved and lost and lived. Take a walk through the stacks here and you’ll find examples of these things. You’ll see the stories that make you laugh and stories that make you feel other things.

Read the archives and you’ll find more than one discussion about the boundaries of blogging. I think about these things for many reasons. I worry about invisible people and wonder about whether we live in a bubble. Really I spend quite a bit of time looking for teaching moments. I do it because two kids and a dog call me dad. I do it because being a parent is a little bit like being on one of those crazy Japanese game shows.

I do it because life consistently presents opportunities that remind me that there are moments where the focus in life is about a question of dignity.
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That is a picture of items from our garage sale. An unexpected rainstorm is the reason that the ground is wet and things are tossed about- but that is not what I see or think about. What I see is the homeless guy who is standing off to the right side of the page. I can’t tell you how old he was but I can tell you that he was weathered, dirty and that he looked like hell.

Can’t tell you if he read one of our signs and wandered over looking for stuff or if he just stumbled upon us and I don’t care. What I can tell you is that I sold him a pair of shoes and an old backpack for $1. One of my “customers” yelled at me for charging him for those items. She told me that I was greedy. I told her that it was a question of dignity. He asked me how much it cost. He didn’t ask for me to give it to him. So I charged him a dollar for shoes and a backpack that are worth far more than that to him.

That is one of the lessons that I can attribute to my parents/grandparents. He deserved my respect and that dictated my response.

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It was something that I thought about today. As we stood around my grandfather’s bed I watched my children and gauged their response to what they saw. It is clear to everyone including them that the end is almost here. When I went to see him on Sunday I helped him out of bed so that he could go to the bathroom. What that really means is that I carried him five feet and then held him up so that he could answer nature’s call. I did my best not to make eye contact so that he could maintain some semblance of dignity, but we both knew what was happening.

Later on I found myself thinking about both of my grandfathers and reflecting a bit upon their influence upon my life and who I am. I am not the same man I was when my paternal grandfather died. That is not to say that he wouldn’t recognize me because he would- but life has changed me. If he were here he would tell me that you can only play the hand you are dealt and that you the best you can with that.

I’d smile and say that I do that…every day. I’d tell him that I love him, that I miss him and that I am sorry he can’t see how incredible his great grandchildren are.

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I knew that the kids wouldn’t be up for a long visit so when it became apparent that they were getting squirrely I told them it was time to say goodbye. They walked out of the room and started chasing each other down the hall. Grandpa motioned me to come closer and reached out to hug me. I bent over, kissed his cheek and said “I love you grandpa.” He looked me in the eye and said “I love you too.”

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12 Comments

  1. TheJackB September 8, 2011 at 12:27 am

    @nikoley Spies come along with the territory. There are always a bunch of plagiarists who come around and lift material. We don’t catch all of them, but we have to try. “We” referring to writers in general.

    Two year old twins will keep you busy- my youngest sisters are twins. Can’t say that I know what it is like to parent them, but I know something about how active they can be as a sibling and obviously days with my own kids taught me something.

    I used to play basketball with a guy who had been homeless. He is responsible for teaching me to think about the dignity of the people I was trying to help. The guy who came to the garage sale needed help but part of doing that was giving him a chance to get those shoes without giving up something I couldn’t sell to him.

  2. nikoley September 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Not a spy, though it seems like you have been having trouble with a few that have been stealing your work!

    Typically I don’t generally follow blogs, but your work caught my attention and I’m hooked. I look forward to reading your entries on my breaks at work, as “me time” at home is minimal chasing after two year old twins. I find your work so brutally honest, interesting, and I absolutely love it. Thank you for replying to my comment. I do agree it is great to help, however, after reading this blog entry, it has made me realize that not everyone is looking for that help. For those who don’t have much, dignity may be all they have, and it is a personal right we should all respect. I will continue to help, as it is who I am, but will definitely be looking at each situation in a new perspective.

  3. TheJackB September 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    @nikoley Hi Nikoley. I am glad that you decided to comment. I am always curious about the people who read but never comment. Sometimes I make up stories about who you people are and what you are doing reading blogs. Usually make you into spies, but we’ll save that for a different day.

    The world never has enough people who are willing to help others. I don’t say sarcastically or with anything but a smile. There is always a need for someone who is willing to lend a helping hand. I think that it is great that you do that and hope that you always continue.

    Thank you for your comment and I hope that you share more of your thoughts with us.

  4. nikoley September 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Hey Jack, I just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your blog, though in general, I don’t usually post any comments. This post, however, has stuck with me… and I have since went through your archives to read it again. I guess I am “one of those people” who would bend over backwards to help someone. I would probably give you the shirt off my back if you told me how badly you needed it.

    I wouldn’t say I run around trying to save the world from poverty and despair, but if I think I can help out in any way, I do. I have always been this way, and had never given it a second thought. Your post really hit home, and I would just like to say “thank you” for opening my eyes. I had never really taken a step back and looked at it from your perspective, but I will from now on. Thanks again

    Niki

  5. TheJackB August 4, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    @MimiMeredith Supporting each other is something that makes much sense to me. I am all for it. 🙂

  6. MimiMeredith August 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    @TheJackB It is a worthy objective indeed. And sometimes I do a much better job of rising to the challenge than others! We’ll just keep supporting one another’s good efforts…or efforts to be good.

  7. TheJackB August 4, 2011 at 10:36 am

    @MimiMeredith Life is nothing more than a collection of moments and the one thing that I have been taught/learned is to try to keep my head about me so that I recognize them.

    My hope and my goal is do what you mother did and teach my children every moment of my life. It is a worthy objective and one that is worth exerting effort for.

  8. MimiMeredith August 4, 2011 at 7:42 am

    I’m so grateful he has good shoes and a new backpack and that you saw beyond the surface of his situation. And I’m grateful your grandfather still has the strength to say “I love you, too.” Two very interesting references to dignified responses to situations in life that we wouldn’t intentionally choose.

    My mother modeled for all of us the most incredible grace, humor and resilience as she lost her ability to care for herself. Even as she died, she taught us how to live with dignity. She truly taught us with every moment of her life.

  9. TheJackB August 4, 2011 at 6:56 am

    @BetsyKCross You are better than I am. I try not to argue, but I am not as good at that as I could be.

    I don’t know how people deal with the loss of the ability to take care of themselves. Obviously some do, but that is one of those things that concerns me. The day I can’t take care of basic needs for myself is something I prefer not to ever have to deal with.

  10. TheJackB August 4, 2011 at 6:53 am

    @John Falchetto We are in agreement here. If you don’t teach people how to take care of themselves all you do is cripple them. I don’t understand why we don’t work harder to do that. It is better for everyone to give them a hand up instead of a hand out.

  11. BetsyKCross August 4, 2011 at 2:54 am

    Jack,

    For the first time in the year I’ve been using Facebook I “un-friended” an acquaintance over this issue. She couldn’t wrap her head around her “holier-than-thou” attitude when it came to “helping” people. She couldn’t grasp the concept of dignty. She saw herself as better and wiser. Made me nuts. And I don’t argue. Ever. It leads no where fast.

    I also wonder how people cope, or make a shift to deal with needing help with such private things like bathing, etc. when they find themselves in a vulnerable state like your grandfather.

    Great thoughts, Jack.

  12. John Falchetto August 4, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Jack I couldn’t agree more.

    I have a serious beef with people running around and setting up charities. Yes it removes dignity, teach someone how to help themselves and let them spend their money if they want to. Who are we to judge what they can spend on or not?

    Charity just masks the problem it doesn’t alleviate it.

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