Two weeks ago, I experienced another of life’s great moments, this one at the Dhoby Ghaut metro station in Singapore. It was there that I learned something about people making a good connection.
The evening weather had been threatening, there was thunder and lightning, and sprinkles but now the rain was falling in buckets from a black nighttime sky.
As I entered the train station with umbrella in hand, a young woman looked at me and smiled. Strange women looking at me and smiling happens so rarely, I most often don’t know how to respond.
In this case, I smiled in return and said hello, but didn’t lose my stride in heading toward the escalator to meet my train home. Riding the moving steps, I wondered why she had done that. Within seconds, I knew the answer.
Reaching the bottom level, I took another escalator back up, walked up to the woman and said, Do you want my umbrella? She was speechless with surprise, but managed to blurt out that she’d been waiting for 30-minutes for the rain to stop.
I handed her the umbrella, and headed back to the escalator. She asked, How can I return it? I told her she couldn’t, but she could pass it to a stranger who needs an umbrella.
Reaching my station at Orchard Road, I walked three blocks home in the rain. I was soaked, but happy a stranger had allowed the opportunity to make a classic connection: a person in need and a person willing to share. How was the woman affected? I’d say that she
already knew the high value of a good smile at the right moment. More important she learned something about V.P Menon’s spirit of giving.
Two days after the Great Umbrella Giveaway, I read a brief account of V.P. Menon. V.P. was one of the most significant political figures in India during its struggle for independence from Britain.
The eldest son of twelve children, he quit school at thirteen and worked as a laborer, coal miner, factory hand, merchant, and school teacher. He had no degree and no family ties to support his ambitions, but he grew to be one of the prominent people who made freedom possible for his country.
In his lifetime, he was known for cool efficiency and an ability to promote harmony between his people and the British. He also enjoyed a reputation for personal charity, a value he learned early in life under unusual circumstances.
As a young man newly arrived in Delhi to seek his first job in government, all his possessions, including money, were stolen. In desperation he turned to an elderly Sikh, described his plight, and asked for a loan of 15 rupees to tide him over. The Sikh gave him the money, but when V.P. asked for his address so that he might repay the loan, the Sikh said that he owed the debt to any stranger who came to him in need, as long as he lived. The help came from a stranger and was to be repaid to a stranger. He never forgot that debt, even on his death bed.
At that unfortunate time a beggar came to the family home in Bangalore asking for help to buy sandals as his feet were covered with sores, V.P. asked his daughter to take 15 rupees from his wallet and give it to the beggar. That was his last conscious act. I learned this story from Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
A smile, giving away an umbrella, helping a stranger, walking in the rain, reading a good book—we very often find the human spirit to be right where it should be.