I recently bought a new wallet. It’s made of bright green leather, large enough for cards and money as well as my phone or car keys (but not both!), yet still small enough to fit in a pocket. Whenever possible, I avoid handbags.
A new wallet gives the opportunity to de-clutter. Ticket stubs and dockets, out-of-date coffee loyalty cards, and sundry odds and ends are binned, making space for the essentials.
Tucked away in a corner of my old wallet was a copper coin – a two-cent piece. I pulled it out. No longer legal tender, this coin has great value for me.
As I looked at it in my palm, I wondered about the many hands and pockets it had travelled through before getting to me. I remembered the elderly gentleman who had given it to me a couple of years ago.
It was a cruise ship tour day and as the driver and I waited by our coach, an elderly man approached, walking very slowly with the aid of two sticks. We helped him climb the steep steps to the front seat. I was told that he was on his own and ‘please keep a close eye on him’ for the morning tour. Not really part of the tour guide’s job – I had more than 40 guests to care for that day, but what else could I do?
This man was on the ship with family, but a crew member said that they would usually book him on a coach tour somewhere so that they could do their own thing, unencumbered by a frail relative. Sometimes they left him in the care of the bar staff, or in the library, or somewhere with other people on the ship. Just not in their company.
Poor man, I thought. That’s not kind.
At the Botanical Gardens the visitors piled out of the coach, keen to explore on their own. They didn’t need me for this. But the elderly man could not walk far, or fast, and so together we ambled along the flat towards a seat just inside the gate, overlooking the main path down the hill.
‘This’ll do me fine, Ma’am. I’ll just sit and enjoy the fresh air and the sunshine.’
I was reluctant to leave him on his own for too long and so I sat down with him. We chatted. He asked me to describe in detail the gardens, the colours and the trees. Tell me about the lily pond. Do ducks live there? What’s that long brick wall?
And he told me about himself, about recent heart surgery and subsequent strokes that left him with some paralysis and poor vision. As a young man he had established a very successful company, and over several decades made a lot of money. But then he took ill, his wife died and his children had no inclination to take over the business. So he sold up and decided to take his son and daughter-in-law on a long Pacific cruise, all expenses paid – by him.
He regretted the long hours he had spent at work, time away from the family, and the lost opportunities to travel and make close friends. He also knew his son and daughter-in-law felt he was a hindrance, and he was very aware that they often farmed him out for ‘babysitting’.
And yet, as he told me all this, as he sat relaxed and chatty in the sunshine, there was not a skerrick of self-pity, or criticism, or disappointment at his children, or at the way his life had panned out.
He just let it all go. I was the one who felt sad.
It was almost time to go and I offered to get him a coffee. ‘Thank you – an Aussie coffee would be great!’
When I returned from the coffee shop he offered to pay for the flat white but I declined.
‘No, no,’ he insisted, pressing a small coin into my hand. ‘It has been so lovely to sit and talk with you. Thank you!’
I glanced at the coin. It was an old two-cent piece. I thanked him and slipped it into my pocket.
He had given me so much more than a coin. He may or may not have been a Christian, but I had witnessed such grace, forgiveness, kindness, love and generosity of spirit in this frail old man. He bore no ill-feeling towards his family, or towards anyone. None at all.
It was an honour to have spent time with him. I treasure that coin. It’s a reminder of a Christ-like attitude.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html