Give the Man a Banana

The conversation started suddenly. “Are there enough for everyone?” The man with with dirty clothes and shaggy hair asked politely. He glanced toward the box of bananas under a nearby tent.

How difficult is it to ask another person for food? Is that as low as a man gets? Is that when he is at his most desperate? Maybe. Or maybe not. But in that moment, his dignity is posted in the front window and the sale sticker is worn and faded from the world s***ting on it.

Hundreds of spotted yellow peels were piled high as a never-ending conveyor belt of volunteers refilled the banana supply. Caught off guard by him, and his mannerly approach, I stumbled with my reply, “I think they’re for the the people who ran in the charity race.”

CHARITY race. For a charity created to help people in circumstances like this chap. A charity that uses funding and donations and good to create programs and help people. A charity that does this so that cities and taxpayers and you and I aren’t burdened. The kind of charity I would be proud to have my kids volunteer for one day. The kind of charity for which I had just completed a 25 km bike ride to support.

What is certain is that a man (or woman) asking for food is in a very dependent and vulnerable position. He got there somehow — bad luck or otherwise. It doesn’t really matter but he’s there and, for a brief second, my judgement (the unconscious self righteous kind) was the only thing between him and a banana.

The man went on, “do you think I could have one?” At this point, my brain and my heart screamed, “of course!” But my defiant mouth blurted out, “I don’t know, they’re not my bananas to give away.”

You coward.

What does that even mean? They’re not my bananas…This man’s dignity aside, when did I lose my sense of human decency? What an uncaring coward. My boys weren’t nearby to see what their dad had suddenly become.

Fortunately, my wise, sometimes too caring colleague, Amanda — who happens to be a Baus (urban dictionary, look it up) of a mom — jumped in and saved the day. “You want a banana? Here you go. Have a great day!” she beamed. A broad, toothless smile stretched across the man’s face. A quick thank you and he disappeared into the crowd.

Then she turned to me and declared, without any contempt, “just give the man a banana.” Very matter of fact. And she asked philosophically, “how difficult is it for a person to ask another for food?”

And there it is.

A simple lesson. But a lesson we all need to practice so that we can teach our kids.

Never ever forget to do what’s right. It’s easy to wilt and be a coward and cast judgement and move on.

I’ve thought about this a lot. And the best reason I have for my reaction is that I live in a big city now. It’s a great city but a lot of strangers ask me for stuff. I admit, my skin has hardened and I can tell that my guard is up most times.

Or maybe that’s just an excuse to hide and do what’s easy.

The more honourable, and usually more graceful, thing to do is muster up a small amount of courage and do what’s right. And no, the bananas weren’t mine to give out but there’s something bigger at stake here. And that’s what I will teach my kids.

The stranger had only his dignity. He used it to ask for a banana. My answer exposed a weak person either by choice or by environment. Next time, I’ll give the man a banana.

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