I was once walking along a narrow but busy street in Cairo when ahead of me was a donkey-cart laden with handmade pottery and clay utensils. It belonged to an old man who had been walking slowly beside it, and trying to sell whatever he could to make an income. He walked with hunched-shoulders, a turban tied round his head like a Sa’idi from Upper Egypt, his face wrinkled by age and the harsh Egyptian sun. It wasn’t hard to see that many difficult years had passed over him and he had probably been doing this for a long while.
As I continued to walk, I heard a cry and some commotion. The donkey had staggered back (probably startled by something) and as a result, the harnessing pushed the cart upwards, sending the pottery and clay shattering out into the street. It was heartbreaking to see the poor man’s face turn dark and sorrowful. With a heavy heart, he began to pick up the broken and chipped pieces of clay and pottery; his livelihood and merchandise that no one was going to buy now.
But as he did so, I began to see random people come out of shops and apartments, hurrying towards him and picking up his pottery from the street. There was no more hustle and bustle; just a quiet silence as people stopped to help him. Cars stopped out of respect, or slowly diverted around the broken and chipped clay. What was truly moving was to see many people pull out money and give it to the man as if they were purchasing the broken clay, except they weren’t buying anything (other than Paradise I guess). Drivers stuck out money from their window for the poor aged man, and almost every person who helped pick up the pieces also chipped in with sadaqah (charity). They realized that today, he wasn’t going to be making much money… in fact for that whole month to come, he probably wasn’t going to be making much at all.
It was incredible to see the hearts of people move like this. Humanity may disappear and people may be cruel towards the poor in certain places and at certain times, but in other places and at other times, the humanity is truly beautiful.
Keep your heart close to the poor and needy; they help to keep it alive.