15 January 2014

The humility of Sarinda and Nathan

Eric is a common name in the United States of America.  I’ve met many Erics in my time but one of them I will never forget. This Eric lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I met him more than twenty years ago and might never see him again. 

Eric was a panhandler.  That’s ‘American’ for beggar.  Sanitized term, sociologists and literary theorists would claim.  He was what people might call a ‘Hippie’.  I had seen Eric many times around Harvard Square, either panhandling or hanging out with his friends, but I had never spoken with him.   
One day Eric came home.

One of my housemates, Charlie, was also a ‘Hippie’.  Eric was his friend.  Charlie introduced Eric to the rest of the household.  I asked Eric what he did for a living (I didn’t know at the time) and he said ‘panhandling’.  I must have looked confused for he explained.  And elaborated.

‘Panhandling is tough work, man.  I can make a hundred dollars on a good day, but it is tough work.  We have to stretch out my hand to each and every person who passes me.  I have to say the same thing over and over again. We have to put up with people who tell us off.  We have to smile at them and keep smiling when the next person walks by, knowing very well that we might get the same treatment from that person as well.  I don’t need that much money to eat.  All I do with the money is to buy beads and strings so I can make necklaces to give to my friends.  If someone just gave me the money to do that I wouldn’t have to panhandle.’

Funny and endearing though the explanation is, such lines would be roundly rubbished by many with cogent arguments.  Let me leave it at that.  I remembered Eric a few days ago and that should count because it was about another giving and another speech about begging.  

The occasion was a formal giving.  Dr Dinesh Sivaratnam made the single largest donation towards the completion of a cancer hospital in Tellippalai, Jaffna.  His contribution would build an entire ward of 60 beds and accommodation for medical staff; a 15,000 square foot facility that would be part of the larger Trail Cancer Hospital complex.  The ward would be named after his parents, Ratna and Meropi, both strong champions of the same cause, i.e. the support of cancer patients.  Dinesh spoke a few words but it not what he said that brought Eric to mind.  Those words came from Ken Balendran.

He had known Dinesh from the time Dinesh was a kid.  He also knew the two men who put heart and mind and many miles too to help set up this hospital.  It was Sarinda Unamboowe and Nathan Sivagananathan who decided to collect money initially from ‘Trail’ – A journey by the living, for life – from Devundara to Point Pedro.  They started from scratch.  The defied all logic and were unperturbed by disbelief and disbelievers.  Ken spoke of them. Here’s the gist.

‘It takes a lot of courage and a lot of humility to do what they’ve done.  It takes humility to go around with the begging bowl, which is what they’ve done.  It’s not easy.  They have to keep asking. Some people might politely decline but some will not.’

They’ve collected more than 3 million dollars that way.  Not all the contributions were as large as Dinesh’s. Not everyone could make large contributions.  They asked everyone they encountered, asked for whatever could be given.  That’s a lot of panhandling.  A lot of humility.  And courage. 

And they are not done. Yet. The hospital will be declared open next week.  Sarinda and Nathan are already planning a return-walk, from Point Pedro to Devundara. They want to set up a similar hospital somewhere in the South. Somewhere in the process, hearts would have caressed hearts, wounds believed to be beyond healing, healed; somewhere someone would have put the past with its agonies, anxieties, suspicions and even hatred to bed.  That’s a lot.  Two people brought thousands together.  They received in giving and gave in their mendicancy.  You could learn all about their work by visiting the website of the implementing body, ‘Colours of Courage Trust’ [www.coloursofcourage.com] or the ‘Trail’ website, www.trailsl.com.  There are stories there of course.  You may come to the same conclusions that Ken Balendran did.  It is important, though, that someone, anyone, said that which does not get said.  Not just the general goodness but the humility. 

Eric may never hear of Sarinda or Nathan and they, likewise, may never run into Eric.  There’s a ‘oneness’ here, however.  It heals other cancers.  And that’s a great thing.      



Unknown said...

upstanding | worthy and admirable words

Anonymous said...

An enduring tribute...