What moves you to tears? What reinforces your faith in humanity? What memories and experiences do you hang onto when you want to recount the great potential of people?
Daddy found greatness in the simplest of things. The food he ate. The jokes he told. The way he lived. He was grateful and thankful for every moment he lived. It’s not that the grandiose was lost on him.
It’s that the grandiose was very simply, not necessary. Daddy found himself moved to tears and inspired to faith by everyday people, enacting everyday gestures, that reflected character, integrity and the very best of what humanity had to offer.
One favorite example takes us back to 1989. Daddy hadn’t been back to visit India in nearly 20 years. Needless to say, he was due. Our parents were greeted by a friend at the airport. Unfortunately, their friend was ill-prepared to accommodate our parent’s travel habits. Think large Samsonite bags bursting at the seams with zippers and locks screaming for mercy.
After seeing the volume of luggage our parents had with them (consisting of whatever Mom had packed for herself and whatever she had packed for Daddy), their friend realized he wouldn’t be able to move our parents and their luggage without some help. He summoned a “Coolie”, or a porter, in Western terms.
When paying cash for any service in India, you find yourself at the mercy of the servicer. And so the haggling began. The Coolie wanted 10 rupees, their friend offered 5. The Coolie worked his way down from 10, to 9, to 8, to 7 rupees, with the longest debate happening at 6. At the bargain basement price of 6 rupees, the Coolie would have been able to afford breakfast, to fill himself with a cup of tea. Daddy’s friend wouldn’t have it. And soon, as market forces determined, a deal was reached: 5 rupees it would be. With the ‘deal signed’, Daddy’s friend went off to find his car into which the luggage would be loaded, but only after telling Daddy in no uncertain terms, not to offer the Coolie any additional money.
A deal is a deal.
As soon as his friend left, Daddy went directly up to this Coolie and offered him the balance of the 10 rupees. Daddy pulled out his best hustle. For 10 minutes he tried everything to give this man some more money. He told the Coolie that he was rich, that he had spare change he wanted to get rid of–he tried everything. But the Coolie would not take the money. When my father asked the Coolie why he refused to accept additional money, the Coolie responded humbly, simply, firmly:
“Sir, I have agreed to 5 rupees, and I have given my word.”
Daddy, was floored. Brought to tears. Even when Daddy made it clear that he would not mention a word of additional rupees paid to his friend, the Coolie wouldn’t accept the offer. Actually, he couldn’t. He had given his word.
You see, for Daddy, Maslow’s hierarchy is inverted. One’s own physiological needs come last; human decency, a rich and undeniable social contract — one’s principles and one’s word are the foundation upon which lives are built and happiness is achieved. In this Coolie and in this story, Daddy found all that was right in this world. No grand scriptures required. No religious experiences necessary. The simple decency of everyday people carried the greatest weight in Daddy’s eyes. Daddy proceeded to retell this story for decades. Decades.
On February 4, 2018, we lost Daddy, the world’s most honest and straightforward man. The kind of man moved to tears of unfathomable joy, pride, and happiness through a passing interaction, with an exceptional example of a human being.
This Coolie carried our parents luggage for a few moments, but he carried Daddy’s spirit and faith for 29 years more.
Thank you, sir.
Last week at our memorial for Dad, we handed out copies of this illustration with the below story printed on its back, instead of a traditional printed program. If you’d like a copy of the printout, DM me and I’ll mail you one. Thank you Oliver Bruehl for the illustration conjured from magic, pure magic.
Note: I’ve collected all the posts and thoughts I’ve shared about my Daddy’s death in one place. Some people have found it helpful as they’ve navigated through their own experiences, or, as they’ve had to step in to support others. This is one in a series, and you can find the full list of posts here.