I believe integrity can live even in the bleakest of places. For me, integrity is about making choices that reflect a sense of honor and responsibility, and when the people in my life make those difficult choices, I admire them for it. But I’ve also seen people act with integrity in places that I never expected it—and it took my breath away—as it did with a man a few years ago in a London Metro station.
My husband and I were riding an escalator down to the Tube and at the bottom a homeless man was sitting cross-legged by a garbage can. I don’t like to give out money to panhandlers because I worry about how they’ll spend it—even if it’s none of my business. So I just don’t give out money on the street and I didn’t plan to give any to him.
On the platform a little girl, probably no more than five, had detached herself from her parents and ran over to the homeless man. He glanced up at her and when she reached into her pocket and bent down to put change in his plate, he refused to take it. He shook his head, first trying to wave her off and when she insisted, he took the money from the plate and handed it back to her. She put her change back in her pocket and stood there, baffled and maybe a little hurt. He turned his body away from her, so she whirled around and ran back to her parents. I heard her ask them, “Why did he do that?” But I didn’t hear their answer.
My husband and I exchanged a look of wonder as we walked away. Standing on the platform, waiting for the train I said, “I want to go back and tell him I saw what he did.” My husband said, “You should.”
I walked back to the escalator and squatted down next to the man. He looked up and he was so young, not more than twenty-five, with electric blue eyes in a dusty face. I said, “I saw that you didn’t take money from that little girl.” I pressed some pounds into his hand and he stared at me intensely for a moment. Then he whispered, “Thank you.”
I don’t think he was thanking me for the money. I believe he was thanking me for acknowledging an act of integrity, for seeing that despite his circumstances he could be an honorable man.
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