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Published: Sunday July 20, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday July 21, 2014 MYT 2:11:19 PM

Heart & Soul: 'Help old lady cross road'

I didn’t see the accident. What I did see was the crowd. I don’t remember where the motorist was bleeding. What I do remember was the handful of people helping him out, and my father was among them.

Instead of waiting for an ambulance, my dad offered to send the man to the hospital. The others carried the wincing victim into the car, and my dad drove away, leaving my family at the gymnastics event which we were attending.

When the crowd had dispersed, and the thrill of the event faded, my dad returned to fetch us home. But when I saw the back seat stained with blood, I didn’t want to go in. At first, we tried to find something to use as a protective sheet, but there was none. I made my complaints known as I gingerly crept into the car. Drained from the initial adrenaline rush of the incident, my dad could have let it slide. But instead, he reprimanded me with a question that has stuck with me ever since.

“A man just had an accident, and all you can think of is how you have to sit on a stained seat?”

Contrite, I remained quiet for the rest of the trip home.

My father is a compassionate man who is given to action rather than just making commentaries. As a person who has had a difficult life, and a leader dedicated to raising future generations, he always has parables and custom-made proverbs to share. One of the phrases he often tells my sister and me is: “Help old lady cross road.”

That’s it, grammatical errors intended. My father alludes to a popular moral lesson we all remember learning in school – one that describes a fragile, decrepit elderly person standing by the roadside, trying desperately to cross but not succeeding. The question usually ends with, “What must you do?” with the obvious answer being – “Help the person cross the road.” My dad took that illustration to be the perfect example for all things moral. Whenever I’m out with friends or visiting someone, he punctuates his goodbye with, “Help old lady cross road-ah.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed many a time when he put that proverb to practice. He always goes the extra mile to help someone, whether as a seafarer, father or stranger. Sometimes, it’s seen in his non-actions, such as refusing bribery or preventing unethical policies from being implemented. Whether he was offering a hand or standing up though, doing the right thing can be embarrassing; there are those who mock at another’s foolish kind-heartedness, while they sit comfortably, looking away with clean hands. But my father isn’t one to be swayed by public opinion. Such was the case of the injured man, and the trip to the hospital.

As I grew into my own person, this phrase helped define my social behaviour and attitude. Yes, there were times when the proverb turned stale, and the admonition seemed childish when I was growing up. But the more I learn of this world and life, the more I understand that helping the old lady cross the road is far from being juvenile. There are profound lessons that are encompassed in this instruction.

Firstly, doing the right thing should be a lifestyle, regardless of time and place. Secondly, don’t be so self-absorbed; we should be aware of our surroundings and the people around us. Thirdly, the simplicity of the phrase conveys the notion that doing the right thing should be common sense. There’s no excuse for, “I didn’t know/wasn’t sure/was afraid.” And lastly, when we do the right thing, we get in the way of people who won’t be pleased. But in the end, they’ll respect our integrity.

The proverb would have been just another question to answer in an exam, if it weren’t for my dad. More importantly, it would have meant nothing if he had not set the example through his own life. As the years pass, the more I appreciate his wisdom, and the more I am thankful for a father who doesn’t hesitate to do the right thing when everyone else would have walked away.

Most of the blood did come off when the car seat was scrubbed. But a small stain remained. It is a reminder of the day when my father “helped the old lady cross the road”, and of the lesson taught that one moment, for a lifetime.

Tags / Keywords: Heart & Soul, apathy, moral

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