Excerpt from The Memories I Made Up by David Joannes
The Beggar 

I have to describe my memories with words, inadequate as I know they are.

I’m sure you know the feeling too. We see the mental picture that we are attempting to explain as clear as it was then. The colors. The smells. The sensations. They are all there. And in our mind’s eye their descriptions are vivid and precise, the frames and sequences perfectly defined.

We are eloquent in the recollection of our memories.

But whenever we try to describe the memory to another person, the words seem dull and vague. They pass through the filter of our vocabulary until the bulk of their substance disappears, leaving us unsatisfied at the portrait we have painted for our listener.

Here is a memory that I have experienced in full color, but will describe in black and white.

It is nearing winter now. The air is chilled, and the partially leafy trees quiver in the breeze. Careless shoes tread over scattered leaves fallen in Jinri Park.

A seven year old beggar girl is pressing her rusty tin can into my belly. She is wearing tattered, dark-blue pants, obviously handed down from another sibling, and a holey pink shirt with tiny red roses embroidered on the neck. She is barefoot, and only has a stub for her left arm. Crusty dirt is smeared on her cheeks. She looks up at me with dejected eyes, hollow little eyes that look like they are ready to burst with tears.

“Uncle,” she pleads, “Uncle, give me some money.”

There is thirty-seven cents in her rusty white tin can, so in my empathy, I plop a quarter inside.

“Thank you, Uncle.” But she doesn’t smile. I notice the wide seems in the gray sidewalk that has no ending. I notice all the passing black pointy-toed shoes.

As I am walking away, I glance back at her. She stands in the busy park while rich businessmen in pinstriped suits pass by, their gaudy outfitted wives on their arms. She stands in a blurry contrast of shifting gray hues with dirty wind burnt cheeks.

“Don’t give the beggar kids any money,” a missionary once told me. “Their parents are just using them. They don’t get any of the money anyway. I’m sure their father is sneaking around the corner somewhere right now, making sure their kid brings home enough money for whatever addiction he has. Let the Chinese take care of their own.”

“Go get a job,” another guy with blonde hair tells a beggar.

I know, I know: Give them a fish, feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish, feed them for a lifetime.

The point is: she’s just a little girl with dark-blue tattered pants and one arm. I imagine her at home teasing her little brother and playing with her only doll and drawing masterpieces in the dirt with a little stick. And when she is alone she runs down the sidewalk pretending she can fly. She has dreams and an active imagination and a name that no one knows.

The point is: she is precious in the eyes of God—precious enough that He knows her name.

“Uncle,” she looks up at me with those compelling eyes, “Uncle, give me some money.” My quarter clanks in the bottom of her mostly empty tin can. A dreadfully hollow sound. Maybe it’s all just a well thought out performance, and I am duped. Maybe in real life her eyes are not really that sad, and her father is laughing from around the corner because he is getting his fill of alcohol tonight with the money his daughter swindled from me. Maybe those missionaries understand the situation more than me, and all the Chinese know the act, and therefore neither party gives money to the one-armed girl.

The point is: the characters in this act are real.

As I am walking away, I reach into my bag and grab my camera. I cradle it under my arm because I am too shy to point it at her. I subtly snap a digital photograph of the seven year old girl, and upload it onto my website later that day so everyone back home can understand the meaning of China. (I have since learned that photographs are most often as ineloquent as words.)

As I am walking away, a chilled breeze passes through the braches of a bony tree in Jinri Park. No one notices the brown leaf fall to the ground. No one is aware of the crackling sound it makes as it is crushed beneath careless, unintentional shoes.

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  1. Kathy Roeth

     /  06/02/2012

    We are not responsible for the actions we cannot see. We are responsible for the actions the Lord wants us to take. The child was in front of you – the father was not – the Father of all watched.

  2. Well said!
    I no longer consider what I cannot see as I am approached by the poor, sometimes insane, sometimes drunk or high, sometimes old, sometimes young, beggars in Baltimore City and Washington DC. I look at them, I listen to them and then I follow what I sense the Holy Spirit guide me to do at that moment. I used to have so many opinions. I saw everything in white & black, yes or no. Through God’s grace I am now comfortable with the gray & the maybes. This ‘control freak’ is learning to give up control and throw out the rule books. Grace, for me, now means sometimes never getting all the answers to my questions but not needing all the answers to take action… It means praying, trusting, following and letting all the rest go. After all, none of these coins and dollar bills are mine, they are all HIS, so He can handle what happens as they float from one person to the next. Who am I to decide who is deserving? I know I am undeserving and yet He continues to bless & provide for my needs.


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