Bangkok, Thailand: Recently for several weeks in the early morning I had been using a pedestrian overpass to cross over a large boulevard. At the far-end, squatting at the entrance to the down staircase, was a blind leper. He had only nubs for fingers and toes. The shirtless leper positioned himself there to request alms from the people crossing the overpass on their way to work. He held the palms of his disfigured hands together in the gesture of a respectful ‘wai’.
Each morning before crossing the overpass I would take a 20-baht note (60 cents) from my money-clip in my pants pocket and slip the note into my shirt pocket for easy retrieval. As I passed the leper I would drop the note into his cup cradled between his bent legs. Too often I would drop my note and hurry past not giving him or myself any sense of connection. Why? Somewhere hidden in a foolish place in my psyche I suspect that there is a fear of being contaminated – not with his leprosy – but his tragic luck.
Walking down the stairs I felt a faint sliver of contentment in having done some small charitable act.
One morning with my readied 20-baht note in-hand I walked the length of the overpass and down the stairs without encountering the leper. I repeated this exercise several times during the next two weeks and never again saw the man.
Thoughts that he was sick or had died persisted. I wondered who was caring or cared for him. What are the circumstances when a blind beggar with leprosy dies? Is he simply discarded as if resolving an inconvenience? My thoughts included my sense of thankfulness for my own health and of my family members. They also included unanswerable questions about why some are selected for lives of misery and others’ lives of privilege and plenty. No epiphanies occurred – but a resounding confirmation of personal responsibility in acknowledging the privileges and contributing through service to those without.