Years ago, I was working late at my office in social services when two young prostitutes, who had just been released from jail, knocked on the front door of the building. They were in need of food and clothing. Despite their inquiry, they were somewhat sarcastic and rude. My intuitive feeling was that neither of them was longed for this world. They both appeared to be drug addicted and seriously ill.
I got them some both something to eat and then I took them into the storage room to look for some clothes. They both began to choose the clothing they wanted. One of the young women had red hair and when she tried on a blue blouse; her blue eyes shone. I told her how pretty she looked in the blouse. Her demeanor instantly changed and I think I knew why. In that moment, I acknowledged her not as a drug addicted prostitute, someone to be thrown away, but as a dignified human being. That lesson has stayed with me throughout the years.
Webster’s dictionary defines dignity as “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” We are all worthy just because we are human beings. When we remind others that they deserve dignity, we remind ourselves as well. We can’t offer a gift to another without reaping at least some of the benefits ourselves.
When I was in charge of social services at a hospital we had a young homeless woman who was admitted in her final stages of cancer. Her medical chart stated that while she was terminal, there would be hope to extend her life if the doctor could stabilize her condition and improve her general health. As soon as she was admitted I went in to speak with her. Despite it all, she was a happy soul. We talked for awhile and it was clear we had a natural connection. She didn’t have any personal belongings and she was desperate to have a change of clothes and especially a watch. As busy as I was, it took me a day and a half to gather needed items for her. When I was ready, I ran up the stairs to her hospital room. I was saddened to find that the room was cleared out and the bed had been made. I knew she hadn’t been moved rooms. The nurses later confirmed to me she had died in the night.
Even though I had worked as fast as I could have, it felt like a lost opportunity. If we can remind others of their innate human dignity and worth at every opportunity, I believe our lives will be truly successful. What could be more important than seizing an opportunity to offer dignity to those who have forgotten their value?