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How the others live

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Little people who lead simple, but contented lives

By LIM CHIA YING

Photos by ABDUL RAHMAN SENIN and CHUA KOK HWA

Thursday July 7, 2005

Little man Madrazhid Isa can't wait to move into his new home in Sri Rampai Flats, Setapak. Not that he has any complaint about his current home in Pekeliling Flats, but the new place means a bigger space and a new beginning for him and his 10-year-old daughter Nurul Raihah Nadhira.

"City Hall has assured us that the disabled, little people and the visually impaired can move into the new place in the next few months," said Madrazhid. "Everything should be settled by year end."

The special people have been given priority to take up the first five levels of the flats.

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Getting a helping hand from a passer by.

"Previously, we had to stay on higher floors," said Madrazhid.

To the disabled people in his neighbourhood, Madrazhid is a leader. His fighting spirit puts him at an advantage when championing their rights. Incidentally, Madrazhid is co-founder of the Malaysian Association of Little People of which he retired as board member not too long ago.

Madrazhid leads a simple, but contented life. His only goal now is to give his daughter a good life. Madrazhid and his wife have been divorced.

He begins his day at 7am when he sends Nurul off to school. Madrazhid then goes to a stall near his home for breakfast before opening his shop where handphones are repaired.

"It is my workshop," he said of his shop, given to him by City Hall in August. Previously he worked from home.

At 10am he goes to a shop next door for tea.

The 43-year-old from Perak tells us his story over the drink.

"I came to Kuala Lumpur in 1975 with RM1 which my mother gave me," he said. "It was quite an amount then. One ringgit could go a long way."

But, Madrazhid did not spend the money. It had sentimental value.

"To this day I still have it. No matter how tough the going gets, I will still not touch it," he said, adding that he needn't need to know that he had made it "big" compared with his kampung days.

Madrazhid joined the theatre in his early days in Kuala Lumpur. Roles in films followed. "But, I was popular as a stage actor," he said.

Finishing his tea, Madrazhid goes back to his shop where several customers are waiting to collect their hand phones. Others have come to drop off old ones that need to be repaired.

At about 11.05am, he journeys on his wheelchair past the busy Pahang roundabout, then down Jalan Pahang before reaching the busy Chow Kit area. Here's where Madrazhid buys the spare parts for the phones.

Madrazhid began using the wheelchair three years ago after an accident while riding pillion on a friend's motorcycle.

Despite the heat and traffic congestion, Madrazhid is at ease on the busy roads. "I have become used to it. I do it about three times a week," he said, adding that he takes the taxi on rainy days.

"Sometimes I may have to go to Low Yat Plaza, and when I do I take the taxi with my daughter," he said. "This way I get to take my daughter out to jalan jalan (see the sights)."

Madrazhid reaches his home on the ground floor at about 1.35pm. It is when Nurul comes home from school. Still in her school uniform, the Year Four pupil revises her lessons with her father.

Madrazhid returns to his shop at 3pm and returns at 7pm to wash up and take Nurul out to dinner. They return an hour later to catch the news on television.

Madrazhid makes time for Nurul to talk about her day in school before she goes to bed. "I want to spend as much time as I can with her," said the doting father.

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Madrazhid making his way around the busy streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Madrazhid's love for his daughter is immense. "I even started my business to give my daughter everything a growing girl needs," he said. "I want her to have a good education and never go hungry."

On weekends he closes shop early to take Nurul out to the city in the evening.

Mohd Azrin Sahab is another little person who stays at the Pekeliling Flats. Living with him is his wife Ruzita Ahmad, who is also a little person, and their two-year-old daughter.

Azrin works as a mechanic at a Perodua service centre in Serdang.

He leaves home as early as 7am for his work place.

"I wake up at about 6am everyday," he said. "After my bath and breakfast I leave for work."

On Sundays he wakes up later.

Returning home after work at 5.30pm, Azrin performs his maghrib prayers at his home on the second floor. Finishing his religious obligations, he takes his family out for dinner.

"Usually I reach home at about 7pm every day. If my wife comes back from work at a florist’s shop earlier, she will cook, otherwise we pack dinner or eat out," said the 33-year-old.

Azrin drives to work every day. His car is modified to enable him to reach the pedals below the steering wheel.

His wife goes to work in Kampung Baru by bus and the monorail.

"My routine is the same every day. I go to work, come back from work, take my bath and have dinner," said Azrin. "Then, I stay at home, watch television or help my wife with household chores."

On weekends he has more time with his family.

Azrin also goes bowling when the Malaysian Association of Little People organises tournaments.

Like Madrazhid, Azrin is also preparing for the shift to his new home. But, he is not as keen as Madrazhid.

"Although the new place has three bedrooms, the flat is further from my workplace," he said.

"There aren't any facilities like a hospital or the monorail station. I guess it will take us some time before we adapt to our new environment."

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How the Shepherd Saved the SEAL

By Tim McGirk

The tale of an Afghan’s amazing rescue of a wounded U.S. commando

With reporting by Muhib Habibi/Asadabad

July 18, 2005

A crackle in the brush. That’s the sound the Afghan herder recalls hearing as he walked alone through a pine forest last month. When he looked up, he saw an American commando, his legs and shoulder bloodied. The commando pointed his gun at the Afghan. “Maybe he thought I was a Taliban,” says the shepherd, Gulab. “I remembered hearing that if an American sticks up his thumb, it is a friendly gesture. So that’s what I did.” To make sure the message was clear, Gulab lifted his tunic to show the American he wasn’t hiding a weapon. He then propped up the wounded commando, and together the pair hobbled down the steep mountain trail to Sabari-Minah, a cluster of adobe-and-wood homes—crossing, for the time being, to safety.

What Gulab did not know is that the commando he encountered was part of a team of Navy seals (Sea-Air-Land, U.S. Navy specialists trained in unconventional warfare). The team had been missing for four days after being ambushed by Taliban insurgents during a reconnaissance mission in north-eastern Afghanistan. An initial search mission to find the missing seals ended in disaster on June 28, when a Chinook helicopter carrying 16 service members was shot down over Kunar province, killing everyone aboard, in one of the deadliest attacks so far on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Since then, the bodies of two of the missing seals have been recovered; another is still classified as missing, though the Taliban claims he was captured and beheaded.

One member of the team did survive. Though the military has not released the name of the seal (the U.S. military seldom gives out the names of its special-operations personnel), Time pieced together his story on the basis of briefings with U.S. military officials in Afghanistan plus an exclusive account of how Gulab, an Afghan herdsman, rescued the wounded commando. What emerges is the tale of a courageous U.S. fighter facing impossible odds in unfamiliar terrain, stalked by the enemy and stripped of everything but his rifle and his will to survive. But it is also a story of mercy and fraternity, showing that even in the war-scorched landscape of the Afghan mountains, little shoots of humanity sometimes have a chance to grow.

The clashes in Kunar province have highlighted a worrying surge in violence in Afghanistan, where more than 15,000 U.S. and allied troops are based. Several months ago, U.S. and Afghan officials claimed the Taliban was a spent force. But the Islamist fighters and their al-Qaeda allies have sprung back with fresh recruits, new weaponry and advanced bombmaking skills passed on to them by terrorists in Iraq, officials in Kabul say.

It was in response to signs of a mounting threat from Taliban fighters that the four-man commando team found itself in the Afghan forests of Kunar province on June 28, manoeuvring under low clouds and a drenching rain. The mission, code-named Operation Redwing, was to find and engage the enemy. But in late afternoon, the commandos sent back a one-line message to the “Ark,” a coalition-forces operations room in Kabul. Accompanied by a warning chime, it read, “Troops in contact.” Translation: a fire fight was under way.

That was the seals’ last message. The tracking devices each carried went dead, possibly because the men ditched their heavy rucksacks so they could move unburdened, a U.S. official says. Within minutes of receiving the message, eight commandos and eight crewmen of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment piled into an MH-47 Chinook helicopter and sped out to help the trapped men.

According to accounts provided to U.S. commanders by the surviving Navy seal, the commando team had come under fierce attack from a large group of Taliban fighters, who pounded their location with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and a steady hail of small-arms fire. The clatter of the approaching Chinook may or may not have been audible to the seals, but the Taliban surely heard it. A second band of fighters turned and took a bead on the chopper, probably with a rocket-propelled grenade, and in what a U.S. official calls “a pretty lucky shot,” knocked it out of the sky.

Now the four seals were truly alone. With night falling and the fog settling, they managed to slip through the Taliban fighters. Crawling and scrambling, they headed toward the high ridges, and the Taliban—who had them outnumbered, probably 5 to 1—gave chase.

U.S. officials say the commandos kept up a running fire fight with their pursuers for more than three kilometres. The known survivor recalls seeing two of his friends shot. At one point he blacked out, possibly from a mortar round landing close by. When he regained consciousness, two of his team-mates—Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, 25, and Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29—were dead, and a third had vanished in the darkness and fog. The surviving seal dragged himself at least another kilometre up into the mountains. It was there he was found four days later by Gulab the shepherd.

After taking the seal to Sabari-Minah, Gulab called a village council and explained that the American needed protection from Taliban hunters. It was the seal’s good fortune that the villagers were Pashtun, who are honour-bound never to refuse sanctuary to a stranger. By then, said Gulab, “the American understood that we were trying to save him, and he relaxed a bit.”

The Taliban was not so agreeable. That night the fighters sent a message to the villagers: “We want this infidel.” A firm reply from the village chief, Shinah, shot back. “The American is our guest, and we won’t give him up as long as there’s a man or a woman left alive in our village.” As a precaution, the villagers moved the injured commando out of Gulab’s house and hid him in a stable overnight, until it was safe for Gulab to make the six-hour trek down to the U.S. base at Asadabad and report that the seal—by then the subject of an intense search—was alive. Sometime later, Gulab went back to his village and then returned to Asadabad with the commando, this time reuniting the wounded and weary seal with his jubilant comrades.

The relief at recovering the missing commando has been tempered by the heavy loss of American life—and the knowledge that more fighting lies ahead. The Taliban’s offensive shows no sign of waning and is apparently aimed at sabotaging September’s parliamentary elections. U.S. Colonel Don McGraw, director of operations of the Combined Forces Command in Kabul, says that in the chaos of Afghanistan today, it is hard to distinguish among what is the work of the Taliban, drug traffickers and criminal gangs.

It is a testament to the persistent insecurity in Afghanistan that Gulab now fears that his act of compassion may mean his death warrant. After returning the seal, he went back to grab his family and flee before the Taliban would come round seeking revenge. In the mountains of Kunar, fear is rising again.

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In God he trusts

31 Jul 2005

"There is an epiphany in my story," says Tan Sri Francis Yeoh. "I was 16 and had what seemed like an insurmountable problem so I vowed that whichever God would help me, I would dedicate the rest of my life to Him."

"I happened to wander around Bukit Bintang and dropped into the Chinese Baptist Church. It was a Friday. I poured out my woes to the priest who comforted me and said not to worry because by Monday my problem would be gone as promised by Jesus Christ."

"True enough, the miracle happened and my problem vanished on Monday. See, if I had entered a temple, I might have been a staunch Buddhist today. But I believe Jesus Christ directed me towards Him and found me worthy of being His servant."

As to what the ‘problem’ was, Yeoh grins, "I am not telling you, maybe I will reveal it in my autobiography." Being devious and an expert at adding two and two into five, I suspect he asked Jesus to save his father’s company. He was 16 when he offered to drop out of school to work with his father.

During the 1970s upheaval, his father decided to throw in the towel and close Syarikat Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay. He summoned his staff to announce the news but vowed to pay their salaries and all debts by liquidating all his properties and possessions.

Many employees then came forward, declaring they would sell their jewellery and go without pay to save the company as they had absolute faith in Yeoh Tiong Lay to turn it around.

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Tan Sri Francis Yeoh (centre) and family

If this had happened on a Monday, the 16-year-old Francis must have wept tears of joy as he witnessed the power of Jesus.

"When I announced my conversion to Christianity from Buddhism, there was quite a reaction. My parents and siblings were up in arms as I was the first in 20 generations to become a Christian."

"My family said I was insulting my ancestors as we practised ancestor worship. I gave my siblings a Bible each which they combed through carefully to tear it apart. Then miraculously, one by one they became believers and then full Christians. The process took seven to 10 years. However, my parents remain Buddhist but they understand."

He cites one stunning, recent example of the abundance of Christ. After he acquired Wessex Water in 2002 for RM8.5bil, he decided to hold YTL’s annual free concert for 2003 in Bath, England.

Luciano Pavarotti was asked to sing but his only free date was Aug 7. Unfortunately, August is the wettest month and it was feared that the open-air concert might be a washout literally.

Yeoh decided to up the ante by inviting Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras to join forces as The Three Tenors.

The Yeoh family and directors who still meet every Monday as the ‘Yeoh Cabinet’, balked at the expense which was in the millions. Some questioned the need for three tenors when Pavarotti should suffice. Finally Yeoh said, "Don’t worry, Jesus will pay the bill."

Chuckles the crafty man, "That was one sure fire way of ending any protests as they are all Christians! Would you believe that August of 2003 turned out to be the hottest and driest in Bath’s history!"

"Thousands enjoyed the glorious, free open-air concert. Because the rest of the month was so hot, people kept using and drinking extra water and our profits unexpectedly shot up by the same millions, the exact amount the concert cost us! So in the end, I was right in my faith and Jesus did pay the bill."

Yeoh pauses and then says, "Whatever you write about me, please don’t portray me as a po-faced zealot! I am not a firebrand, fundamentalist Christian preacher."

He explains the beauty of God's love: "Moses did not have just the 10 Commandments but 613 laws. If you break any one of them, you are considered a sinner and hell is the destination."

"Since we are all imperfect, Jesus rescues us with just two laws: Love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbours as you would yourself. If you abide by these two laws which cover everything and make perfect sense, you’re saved! Remember, it is the goodness of humans that make democracy possible and the horrible evil in us that makes democracy so necessary!"

He does not believe in denominations and simply calls himself a Christian. "Many think I am a born-again Christian but Jesus in John’s gospel, says ‘you cannot see the Kingdom of God until you are born again’ so in a way, all Christians are born again."

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Community of the Future

Arun Gandhi

As a budding teenager in the 1940s I was intrigued by grandfather’s version of "family," not at all like a conventional family that I was accustomed to. Grandfather was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his "family" was the human race.

In 1946 my father, Manilal, Gandhi’s second son, decided it was time to visit the family in India. I was 12 years old then and all of us needed relief from the hate, prejudice and humiliation of apartheid in South Africa. While I had visited India earlier this was the first time I would be old enough to experience the difference between a conventional "family" and a "Gandhi family" living in an ashram in India.

In 1946 there were close to 150 families living in Sevagram Ashram in Wardha, Central India. Although they retained their family names in all other respects they were part of one ashram family.

This was, in a microcosm, Gandhi’s vision of a future human family. Inclusiveness, he was certain, was the only way humanity could be saved from self-destruction. Humanity must breakdown barriers and build bridges to create peace and harmony in this world. A community, he said, is only as strong as the family. If there is love and harmony in a family there will be love and harmony in a community. What happens to one must happen to all.

Love and harmony in a family can only be achieved through strong bonds of relationship built on respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation. Respect leads to understanding who we are; followed by acceptance and appreciation of our differences.

Teaching tolerance was anathema to Gandhi. People, he felt, should not tolerate each other and their differences, but learn to respect, understand, accept and appreciate each other. Only through a strong and respectful relationship can we have peace and harmony within ourselves and in our society.

Rugged individualism, selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, anger, materialism etc. that dominate our lives today do not contribute to building a community of peace and harmony. What we have today is anything but a community. It is more of a neighborhood or a collection of people living in an area because it is convenient and/or because circumstances have thrown us together. Unless there is "something in it for me," we prefer not to have anything to do with our neighbors.

One day Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, was seen in the ashram kitchen cooking. This was unusual and so Gandhi stopped to inquire. "What are you cooking?" he asked.

"Ramdas," she explained referring to their married son, "is going home to his family this afternoon and I thought I would make some sweets that his children like so much."

"Do you make sweets for the children of all those who visit the ashram and then leave?" Gandhi asked.

Surprised and bewildered by the question Kasturba turned to face Gandhi and said: "No, of course, not."

"Why not?" Gandhi asked. "Are they not, like Ramdas, also your children? Should we not learn to treat everyone equally?"

Kasturba thought she knew what Gandhi was leading to by creating the ashram but this was a dimension she had not considered. She quickly saw the wisdom in what he said and decided to make amends by not giving Ramdas the sweets but making more of them and distributing them to all the children in the ashram.

There must never be, Gandhi said, any double standards in our relationships and our attitude towards each other, our families and humanity in general. What applies to one, must apply to all, he said. For most people this may be totally unacceptable. Perhaps, too high a standard to attain. But Gandhi believed this was the only way to understand and respect each other.

I personally experienced Gandhi’s determination to treat everyone equally while I was with him in 1947. To raise funds for the many programs that he had launched -- to emancipate women and the "low caste" and educate children -- he decided to sell his autographs for five rupees which, in terms of monetary value, was almost the equivalent of $5.

Every morning and evening hundreds would attend his multi-faith prayers and later seek his autograph. I was assigned the task of collecting and bringing to grandfather the autograph books and money for his signature. If so many people were willing to pay so much money for his autograph it must be valuable, I realized, so one day I made myself an autograph book and put it in the pile that I took to him for his signature.

"Why is there no money for this autograph," he asked.

"Because it is my book," I said sheepishly.

"Ah ha! So you think you are going to get a free autograph?" he laughed.

"Yes," I said. "After all I am your grandson."

"So are all the people out there," he said. "They are all related to me. If I have a rule for them that rule must apply to you also."

"In fact," he continued, "For you the rule will be more stringent. You will not only have to pay me for the autograph but you will have to earn the money yourself. Don’t ask your parents for the money."

It was clear that Gandhi would not make an exception for his grandson. I pursued him adamantly, disturbing him during important meetings hoping he would relent and sign my book just to get rid of me, but he wouldn’t. He not only did not give me the autograph but he never got angry with me.

Life in the ashram was designed to be unique and simple. The buildings were constructed with the cheapest material available locally -- mud walls and thatch roof. There were some individual family homes but they were used more to store personal belongings and sometimes a couple slept in them. All other activities were common. Unless someone was ill, old or needed a special diet, all meals were cooked in a common kitchen and consumed in a common dining room.

At the ashram everyone practiced complete equality. There was no such thing as men’s work or women’s work. Any work that needed to be done was done by whoever was available or free. Batches of men and women were assigned duties, rotating every fortnight. There were groups to clean and cut vegetables, cook all meals, wash the utensils, wash all the clothes, clean the campus, work on the land to produce fruits, vegetables and milk for consumption by ashram inmates and anything else that needed to be done.

The idea was to foster cooperation and understanding. It was not always easy going but people attempted to learn and adjust. Perhaps, the most onerous of all tasks at the ashram was the cleaning of the bucket toilets, which were used by everyone. Gandhi had deliberately not permitted toilets in private homes, so that everyone had to use the row of public toilets at one end of the ashram. Gandhi’s reasoning was that cleaning public toilets was the contentious issue on which the caste oppression was based. So, the best way of getting rid of the prejudices, equalizing society and teaching people a lesson in humility was to make them do the work they so despised.

Millions in India are labeled "untouchables" because of the work they are forced to do by the caste system. Only the low castes must do the lowly jobs like street cleaning, garbage pick-up and cleaning public toilets. Because the jobs are menial and considered "unclean" the pay is negligible, forcing the "low caste" to live in abject poverty and ignorance, the vicious cycle that condemns them forever.

Untouchability, and the seeming inability of Hindus and Muslims to get along, are the two major conflicts that divide the Indian community. Both these issues were given appropriate emphasis in the training schedule at the ashram.

Everyone, without exception, was required to participate in the cleaning of the toilets. Each person, like the "untouchables", had to carry buckets of nightsoil and urine to the fields, empty them in trenches, cover the trenches, wash the buckets clean and replace them for use. Sometimes this work had to be done twice a day, which meant having a second bath and this time washing your own clothes.

The first time I was assigned this duty at the age of 12 I found it revolting. But, when everyone, including grandfather, was doing it who could you complain to? I performed the chore obediently and found that with time the work became less revolting. It helped me, and the others, understand the value of work and become truly humble.

Shriman Narayan once confessed his extreme revulsion at having to do this work. He was born into a rich Brahmin family and had just returned from England with a doctorate from the London School of Economics. His family members, like millions of others, were ardent followers of Gandhi. He came to Sevagram Ashram to pay homage to Gandhi and seek guidance for future work. However, like everyone else, from the day he stepped into the ashram Shriman was assigned the duty to clean the toilets. Gandhi did not spare anyone. Shriman was not used to this type of work, or any work for that matter, since he came from a home where they had servants for each member of the family. However, not even he could refuse to do this work. The first day he did it with utmost reluctance.

Then he sought an excuse. "I hold a doctorate from the London School of Economics," he argued. "I am capable of doing great things. Why do you waste my time and talents on cleaning toilets?"

Gandhi replied: "I know of your capacity to do great things but I have yet to discover your capacity to do little things. So, if you wish to seek my guidance and blessings you will have to observe all the rules of the ashram."

Shriman quickly learned the lesson of humility.

The ashram was open to people of all races, religions, beliefs and other forms of differences. The programs of the ashram were designed to teach respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation of those differences.

For instance, all ashram inmates were required to assemble for daily morning and evening worship. If it was not raining the prayers were held under the canopy of the open sky. When he was in residence grandfather led the prayer service. Irrespective of what their personal beliefs may be everyone was required to sing hymns from all the major religions of the world – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zorastrianism to name a few. It was a one-hour service that included a short sermon delivered by grandfather.

"A friendly study of all scriptures is the sacred duty of every individual," Gandhi said and taught us the rudiments of all scriptures. When asked he said I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew. In one of his sermons he said religion is like a tree. The trunk represents spirituality, the branches are the various religions of the world and the leaves are the different denominations. In its totality a tree looks beautiful and adds to the glory of nature. However, when the tree is dismembered it leaves behind a stump and everything else becomes dead wood. This is precisely what is happening with religion today. We have chopped up a beautiful tree and now use the dead wood to build our separate centers of beliefs.

Gandhi did not believe in nor did he propagate the melting pot theory. He said we could proudly pursue our different beliefs without undermining or under-estimating the beliefs of others. There is room for all to exist without being competitive. If we want people to respect our right of worship and belief we must extend the same respect to others and join them in celebrating, respecting, understanding, accepting and appreciating our differences.

Although life in Gandhi’s ashram was rigid it did not mean he expected every community to be built wholly on such rigid principles. His ashram was a training institution. Gandhi expected the workers would go out and mould future communities on the concept of "Oneness" – the ability to see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. In other words the inter-connectedness of all life.

An ideal community, according to Gandhi and Socrates, is one that resembles the human body. Different parts of the human body have different functions – some high and some low – and yet in a time of crises the whole body galvanizes to deal with an injury even if it is on the little toe. An ideal community must emulate this response of the human body. The community may be made up of vastly different economic, religious or social groups but in a moment of crises they must come to the aid of the poorest among them. And, when not in crisis the community, like all body parts, must function in absolute synchronicity. We must learn to respect people not for what they are or how much they are worth but for who they are – human beings.

An average American family, it is said, moves 13 times during the span of a career. This means there is no time to establish roots or build relationships anywhere. We end up having a nodding acquaintance with people in the neighborhood. Individualism is our culture and this determines the breath and depth of our relationships. Individualism and community building have an inverse relationship. Only one can flourish and that too at the expense of the other.

In the pioneering days individualism could survive because the objective was to build a homestead and acquire personal property. Now we are faced with the task of building a community and a society, which means interdependence, interconnectedness and integration. Exclusivity must give way to inclusivity if living in peace and harmony are our objectives. The choice before humanity in the next millenium, therefore, is: Learn to respect life or live to regret it.

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Breakfast at McDonald's

I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3) and have recently completed my college degree. The last class I had to take was Sociology. The teacher was absolutely inspiring with the qualities that I wish every human being had been graced with. Her last project of the term was called "Smile." The class was asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions. I am a very friendly person and always smile at everyone and say hello anyway, so, I thought this would be a piece of cake, literally.

Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonald's one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special playtime with our son. We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away, and then even my husband did.

I did not move an inch... an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved. As I turned around I smelled a horrible "dirty body" smell, and there standing behind me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was "smiling". His beautiful sky blue eyes were full of God's Light as he searched for acceptance. He said, "Good day" as he counted the few coins he had been clutching. The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his salvation. I held my tears as I stood there with them.

The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. He said, "Coffee is all Miss" because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. He just wanted to be warm).

Then I really felt it - the compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes. That is when I noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on me, judging my every action. I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray.

I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue-eyed gentleman's cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes and said, "Thank you." I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, "I did not do this for you. God is here working through me to give you hope."

I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, "That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope." We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace that we had been given were we able to give. We are not church goers, but we are believers. That day showed me the pure Light of God's sweet love.

I returned to college, on the last evening of class, with this story in hand. I turned in "my project" and the instructor read it. Then she looked up at me and said, "Can I share this?" I slowly nodded as she got the attention of the class. She began to read and that is when I knew that we as human beings and being part of God share this need to heal people and to be healed.

In my own way I had touched the people at McDonald's, my husband, son, instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom on the last night I spent as a college student. I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: unconditional acceptance.

Learn how to love people and use things - not love things and use people.

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