Updated: Aug 6, 2021
The world is full of proverbs, aphorisms, and idioms to help us communicate deeper and complicated truths or ideas.
I love them.
But one, in particular, rubs me the wrong way: Beggars can’t be choosers.
To me, this sentiment conveys a sense of power and authority. If I am the benevolent giver, I choose what is given. If I am the beggar, my needs and wants don’t matter. I have no say and better be thankful for whatever the benevolent giver graciously bestows upon me.
A little over ten years ago, I was headed downtown on the N train of the NYC Subway System. A man, who appeared to be homeless, was walking the length of the car, asking for food donations.
I had a Gala apple in my backpack.
As he approached where I was sitting, I fished the apple out of my bag and extended it to him.
He looked at my offering and shook his head.
I was caught off guard. Wasn’t he asking for food?
If I were to subscribe to the proverb “beggars can’t be choosers,” this man didn't get to reject my apple. He should be taking it … with a grateful heart!
Where I had been feeling good about myself for giving to the poor, part of me now felt foolish. My contribution was being refused. Was it not good enough?
It’s an apple! It’s healthy!
Did he want a granola bar? Had he been asking for money, not food?
“You don’t want it?” I asked, still stunned.
He shook his head and opened his mouth, almost smiling at me.
As I took in his grin, I saw the man had no teeth.
It wasn’t necessarily that he didn’t like apples. It wasn’t that he found my offering to be lacking.
He didn’t have any teeth. He literally couldn’t eat it.
This beggar certainly could be a chooser.