The haunting conscience of the missed opportunity

My wife and I were rushing to visit a patient in a hospital when a woman standing in a car park stretched a hand trying to sell us frankincense in a plastic bag. I reached out for my wallet but my hand froze halfway when I remembered there was not any money in it. I asked my wife, as we were walking past her, if I could borrow some money. Because we were in a rush, she dipped her hand in her handbag and came out with cash as we were walking.
I took the money, stopped and looked back. She was standing there but I told my wife I would give her the money after we finish seeing the patient. I assumed she would still be there after the visiting hours. Half an hour later, she was not standing where I thought she would be. I looked at all directions in that car park but she was gone.
As I was driving out of the hospital car park, the imprint of her pleading face in my mind and the echo of her faint voice asking us to buy what she had in her hand haunted me.
No one would want to strip down their dignity and stand outside hospitals “begging” for money if they are not really in need. At least she covered up her poverty with the “business” of selling frankincense trying to save her face. I don’t think many people stop to consider that.
People like her are a complete invisible and I was one of them. Noticing them is never enough but reaching out for your wallet for a rial would go a long ago. Many of us would dismiss them as beggars “who make more money” than the giver. But there is the benefit of the doubt. What about the last meal she had with her children waiting at home was 24 hours earlier? Perhaps I still feel guilty for not making an effort to walk back to her. I just took for granted that she would be back.
In the same channels of thoughts, I was surprised to hear about the new law reported last week forbidding ordinary people from collecting cash for the poor. They need official permission to do it. Community fund-raising has been practised for centuries in the country. It is a tradition where different communities look after themselves and their interest. Such a law takes food away from the mouths of the hungry and deprive many under underprivileged families from living with dignity.
We take for granted many facilities around us but for the poor they are a luxury. For example, some families get their electricity and water supplies disconnected in the middle of the summer because they cannot pay the bills.
You guessed right. The community fund-raising gets them out of this problem to make sure they get to sleep when the temperature touches 50 degrees Celsius or get water back in their pipes.
Yes, you would argue that there are many crooks in this world taking advantage when money is raised. They stuff it into their pockets and the poor never get it. However, there is always that risk but on the good side, more good comes out of community fund-raising than bad.
It generates cash where everybody chips in in a small way. Cash contributors do not burst their bank balance. They pay a token but that amounts a lot to help many who need it. If authorities are worried about misuse of trust among communities, then they should not look any further. If communities are prevented from raising a few thousands because the money would end up in crooked hands, then the same authorities must take care of those who have almost nothing.
Like the women who sell frankincense in the parking spaces in our hospitals.

Saleh al Shaibany
saleh_shaibany@yahoo.com