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Poor Little Rich Man

My friend Veronica walks with two canes
due to a congenital spinal problem.
She has difficulty sleeping
every night
because of chronic pain.
When we met seven years ago
she only used one cane
but, over the course of time,
it became easier getting around with two.

When we met, she also got around on her bicycle,
we rode our bicycles many places together
but a year or two ago, she gave up riding hers.
The cobblestones are one obstacle
but the real problem
is that when she loses power
(not just going uphill)
her legs are so slow
that she can't get her foot from the pedal to the ground
quickly enough to prevent her from falling
with the bike on top of her.

Now she'd like to get back in the saddle
and, although the walking she regularly does
is a lot of exercise for her,
she's wants to try stationary bicycling
as a way of strengthening her shriveled legs.

Neither of us has money to speak of
so, a couple of months ago I was excited
when I saw on Civil List
an ad by someone selling a used stationary bicycle.
I responded promptly, privately
before anyone had responded publicly
sending a message asking to buy the bike
emphasizing Veronica's medical difficulties and need.

The next day,
when I looked on Civil List
couldn't find the post
and realized it had been removed,
I was very disappointed.
I never received a reply to my message.

Then last week
once again I got excited
when I saw another stationary bicycle listed for sale on the Civil List.
Again, I responded promptly
one hour after it was posted.
But this time
in addition to sending the message privately
I posted it publicly
for everyone to see
to alert any other potential buyers
that they would be taking the item away from a crippled woman
(Mexicans still use that word):
"A dear friend of mine, a teacher at a local school, walks with two canes and needs an exercise bike to strengthen her legs. I would like to buy this for her, please. How can we arrange that? Thanks, David"

The owner,
whose name I recognized,
as an officer of a local civic organization,
replied promptly and positively:
"1500 pesos and it's all yours. You can pick it up at my house tomorrow"
I wrote back asking for directions
to the large house I saw on his Facebook page.
An hour and a half later, he replied,
"David - looks like a person who wrote earlier is buying the bike."
I took a few deep breaths and wrote back:
"And he walks with two canes, is poor and needs it therapeutically?"
I never got a response.

I did, however, later that same day, receive a related message
from a very kind woman
who saw the public post I made on Civil List.
This charitable soul wrote that she had a stationary bike available
and that "given the circumstances"
she would sell it for half of what she had been going to ask,
less than half of what the man had been asking for his.
Largely because Veronica now has this bicycle in her living room
and has been riding it over the last week
several times a day
I've gotten over my urge to publicly shame this man
who reneged on our agreement.

It wasn't the exquisite irony involved
that made me want to publish this story,
that an officer of a civic organization, priding itself on business ethics,
went back on his word,
offering no excuse,
after telling me, "it's all yours",
not telling me that his wife's friend wanted the thing
or whatever it was that had changed his mind.

No, I have a larger reason for writing this,
a point that has been sorely rolling around my heart and brain for some time
as I've tried and failed to get certain rich folks interested in my community-building project, Lokkal,
persons to whom $50,000 US dollars is less than 50 pesos is to me.

Most people, most of the time, are conformists.
We want to belong and for that we have to show that we belong.
That's just human nature.
Being part of the tribe, the band, vastly increases our odds of survival.

Most of the time
rich people do things because other rich people do the same things,
they buy multiple, expensive watches, cars and homes
because their rich friends have
multiple, expensive watches, cars and homes.
Fair enough,
it's their money,
they can do what they want with it.

Many rich folks give money to charity
not out of genuine compassion,
any common humanity with the poor
(that would be so messy),
but because their friends give money to charity.
They give towards community betterment,
not because they feel part of the community,
but only because that's what rich people do,
along with acquiring, multiple expensive watches, cars and homes.
It's like joining a country club.

Now, don't get me wrong,
that type of giving is still a very high level of charity.
I believe, if there is a heaven
(or any sort of equivalent),
for that alone they will get in.
But there is a higher level, yet.
They are missing something,
a bit of heaven on Earth.

So, we have the phenomenon of the officer of a local civic organization
totally failing when it comes to personally acting civically,
completely lacking compassion for one truly in need.
I expect that this "good" man
has never really thought about anyone in need,
never actually meditated on the need,
the chronic pain since birth,
that every step is an awkward labor.

I'm sure he hasn't given a second thought to denying a crippled lady his stationary bicycle,
that it hasn't crossed his mind since he closed my last email
without giving it the courtesy of a reply.
I'm certain that if his acquaintances,
such people do not have friends,
despite my efforts at hiding his identity in this article,
recognize him herein and show it to him,
that he will feel nothing, not shame, not regret, not hollowness,
such people do not have feelings, not really,
they've made it a point not to feel
(that would be so messy).

I hesitated to publish this
because it's a small town
and I don't want to make enemies.
But then I thought,
such people do not have enemies,
they are entirely alone.


[Veronica has a hard time balancing when she sweeps the floor, a very hard time. A vacuum cleaner, as it can be operated with only one hand, would allow her to hold a cane in her other hand. She'd like to buy the one in your closet that you never use, please. Write her at the email below. Thanks.]


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