This I Believe

Saloni - State College, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 17, 2006

Be Grateful for What You Have

“Finish your vegetables because there are children in India who are starving!” These were the words I grew up hearing my parents say. Being the logical girl I was, I often asked myself “How will finishing my vegetables help the starving children in India?”

Many years ago, when I was visiting my extended family in India, I discovered the answer to my question. It was a summer day and my mother — an avid shopper when it comes to Indian dresses — told me I had to go shopping with her to find some “nice traditional outfits.” Because of the scorching heat and zillions of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, I didn’t want to go. After much struggle, my mother pulled her rank on me and I was dragged off in our air-conditioned car to the outdoor bazaar. Outside the market I saw something which struck me: a woman without a leg carrying a baby and begging for money. Her body was covered with a single piece of ragged old cloth, the unbearable stench of which attracted many flies. As she limped up to me I noticed her dirt-colored skin, her emaciated body, and most of all, her haunted eyes, pleading like those of an animal about to be butchered. Her mal-nourished baby was crying as she said to me, “Didi mujhe paisa dede.” Sister, give me money. Overcome with pity, I asked my mother if I could give the beggar some money. She nodded and handed me a few Rupees — a few pennies in American currency — for my charitable intentions. A few minutes later I saw another beggar, this time with a missing arm, and gave him a few rupees as well. Soon, a flood of poor people wearing dirty rags and carrying cups of change crowded me with their hands outstretched. I was overwhelmed, especially since I knew I could do nothing to help them.

When I returned home, I remembered what my parents had told me when I was younger. I finally understood! My parents were not referring to saving India’s starving children when they told me to eat my vegetables; they were telling me not to take things that I have for granted, because there are many who would give anything to have the kind of life I live. After seeing the poor people in India, begging for pocket change or a few scraps of food, my perspective on life changed. These people were living through devastating ordeals, and I realized that instead of complaining about having nothing to watch on TV or not finding matching jewelry, I should be grateful and try to help them out.

I confess that there are still times when I complain about my life. However, every time I do, the memory of the lugubrious eyes of the beggars in India gives me a pause. Before going to India I believed in always having things my way. Now, I believe in being grateful for what I have.