A Lesson in Humility | #MyFridayStory №322

Frans Nel
3 min readFeb 16, 2024
Pixabay | Pexels

When COVID-19 hit South Africa in March 2020, everyone felt the ill effects, but none more than disadvantaged and marginalized people.

The first national lockdown lasted for three weeks, starting on March 27, 2020. It was soon extended and lasted until May 2020. The lockdown restrictions started easing in June and continued declining towards the end of 2020 and into 2021. While staying at home was convenient for most people to avoid virus transmission, the homeless were more vulnerable.

Many businesses, schools, churches, malls and other gathering places embraced the novelty of work-from-home as everything and everyone cocooned at home. As the pandemic took hold, our church responded by having our minister host a daily “check-in” on YouTube for all congregants. These became a staple routine for my older brother and me as we struggled to cope with the pandemic’s effects. Our minister shared a profound understanding of the situation, leaving listeners with a sense of calm and comfort amidst the chaos.

Along with all the local churches, temples and synagogues, our church runs a Soup Kitchen for the homeless. My daughter and I decided to volunteer as a way of acting rather than doing nothing. It was an instant decision we acted on quickly, given the desperate situation the pandemic had caused for people without means to support themselves. For the pandemic’s duration, as volunteers, we served warm meals and a little hope to those who had lost theirs.

As an extension of what we started at the Soup Kitchen — having care and empathy for those less fortunate — I decided to make eye contact and acknowledge people. I especially focused on beggars and car window cleaners at traffic lights. Wherever I went, I’d look for reasons to engage anyone I passed — a nod to let them know I see them or a greeting asking how they’ve been keeping. I’d listen to their reply and respond.

I saved all my silver coins in my car’s ashtray. If I saw a beggar, I’d open my window and give them something before they asked. For the window cleaners we all love to hate, I’d make eye contact, call them over, open my window, and give them money without requiring my windows washed. I’d ask their name, repeating it to try to get the right pronunciation.

I realized that as a white South African, I haven’t done enough to recognize the importance of pronouncing someone’s name correctly. I used to excuse myself when people of colour gave me hard-to-pronounce names, asking if they had an “easier” English name I could use instead. What arrogance — like saying “Change your birth name so I can respect you.” It was — or still is — common for people of colour to have English names given by someone else. I knew I could do better, so I started learning pronunciation rules and clicks associated with our Rainbow Nation’s many languages and cultures.

It was only when I started trying to connect and engage with people, I encounter daily that I learned how friendly and welcoming South Africans are. Strangers readily share how their day has been and ask about mine. They respond with smiles and laughter. There’s a cheerful, appreciative ring in their voice at being asked about their wellbeing. Soon, you’ll both feel better for having connected!

The pandemic is all but forgotten, but I haven’t forgotten the lessons in humility and gratitude I fortunately experienced, which have forever transformed me. It’s only when we can emotionally and physically feel someone else’s pain and suffering that we know best how to ease their struggles. Something as simple as making eye contact and saying good morning could make someone have the best day of their life.

Have a great weekend and please remember to be generous! 😄

As always, thanks for reading. 🙏

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