3. It’s All About Dignity
Andrew awoke to the aroma of boiling coffee. He opened his eyes and immediately wondered when his walls turned green. When he rolled over, pain grabbed at his lower back. The memory of the night before flooded back to him.
He lifted the flap of the tent and saw Sam. In the morning light, the big man looked less like a gladiator and more like a bum. Sam squatted over a little stove with a blackened pot on it. The huge man’s long overcoat spread out around him like a cloak. Andrew noticed Sam’s close-cropped black hair graying at the temples and his deeply lined and tanned unshaven face. Andrew decided that he looked like Harrison Ford. There was the size of those giant hands. Incredible! He’d never seen hands that massive. His dad’s hands were puny in comparison, and he was a construction worker—when he had a job.
“Good morning, Andrew,” Sam said when he saw the boy. “You drink coffee?”
“There’s the basin there. Wash up. Coffee’s almost ready.”
Andrew moved slowly and the big man noticed. “You hurt?”
Andrew shook his head but unconsciously rubbed his lower back. Sam stepped over to the boy who looked up at him.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Sam said gently. “I just want to see what’s bothering you.”
Cautiously Andrew turned around and lifted up his shirt exposing a massive purple bruise. It reminded Sam of thunder clouds he’d seen in theMidwest. “You’ve got a beaut of a bruise, young man. Does it feel like anything’s broken or misplaced?”
Andrew shook his head and pulled his shirt back down.
“Listen, if you start peeing blood you need to let someone know, OK?”
“Pee blood?” Andrew gulped at the idea.
“Yeah, if that happens it means that your kidneys might be injured. Just keep your eyes open for it. Now, coffee should be ready.”
They moved back to the camp stove and each drank the first cup of coffee in silence. While on the second cup Sam asked, “So, you ready to tell me your story, Little Man?”
Andrew shook his head.
“No problem.” Sam took a long, loud slurp of coffee, set his cup down, and leaned back on his elbows. “So, what do you know about dignity, Little Man?”
“Dignity?” Andrew shrugged. “What’s that, Sam?”
“Well, dignity is like air and just as important. When there’s enough of it, you don’t notice it. You don’t think about it. When there’s a lack of air, you suffocate. All you want is air. Give me air, you shout!” Sam opened his mouth wide as if gasping for air.
Sam commenced to prepare their oatmeal on the little stove with the same pot he’d used for the coffee. “When you’re full of dignity, you can focus on other things like your goals, your interests, anything. When you feel humiliated, like you did last night, your brain focuses huge amounts of attention on your humiliation. You obsess on how people don’t appreciate your human value. Dignity is my breath of life. You get my drift?”
Maybe he knew what Sam meant. Deep down he’d felt humiliated when he couldn’t defend himself—same as when his dad would call him creepy names. Yet Andrew couldn’t articulate his feelings beyond shrugging.
“Life is all about dignity,” Sam continued. “No matter the situation—gangs, drugs, crime, making the right choices, personal relationships—anything and everything in life.”
Sam took the pot of oatmeal off the stove and filled a couple of chipped bowls. He handed one to Andrew.
“Dish up, Little Man.”
Andrew ate without hesitation. Later, Sam poured water into a small basin and handed Andrew a paper towel. “I’ll wash, you dry.”
After breakfast, Sam stretched out on his back with his arms crossed behind his head. “You up for a story, Little Man?”
“I dunno, I guess so.” As soon as he said the words, he kicked himself. He didn’t really want to hear a boring story he couldn’t understand. He wanted to be on his way, maybe hang out with his friends and score some weed.