Listen to this essay here.
A few years ago, I took a sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C. I saw many of our nation’s treasures, and I also saw a lot of our fellow citizens on the street — unfortunate ones, like panhandlers and homeless folks.
Standing outside the Ronald Reagan Center, I heard a voice say, “Can you help me?” When I turned around, I saw an elderly blind woman with her hand extended. In a natural reflex, I reached in to my pocket, pulled out all of my loose change and placed it on her hand without even looking at her. I was annoyed at being bothered by a beggar.
But the blind woman smiled and said, “I don’t want your money. I just need help finding the post office.”
In an instant, I realized what I had done. I acted with prejudice — I judged another person simply for what I assumed she had to be.
I hated what I saw in myself. This incident re-awakened my core belief. It reaffirmed that I believe in humility, even though I’d lost it for a moment.
The thing I had forgotten about myself is that I am an immigrant. I left Honduras and arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15. I started my new life with two suitcases, my brother and sister, and a strong, no-nonsense mother. Through the years, I have been a dishwasher, roofer, cashier, mechanic and pizza delivery driver among many other humble jobs, and eventually I became a network engineer.
In my own life, I have experienced many open acts of prejudice. I remember a time, at age 17 — I was a busboy, and I heard a father tell his little boy that if he did not do well in school, he would end up like me. I have also witnessed the same treatment of family and friends, so I know what it’s like, and I should have known better.
But now, living in my American middle-class lifestyle, it is too easy to forget my past, to forget who I am and where I have been, and to lose sight of where I want to be going. That blind woman on the streets of Washington, D.C., cured me of my self-induced blindness. She reminded me of my belief in humility and to always keep my eyes and heart open.
By the way, I helped that lady to the post office. And in writing this essay, I hope to thank her for the priceless lesson.
Independently produced for All Things Considered by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.