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Shadesbreath, the inspirational example

Updated on May 1, 2014

My friend Shadesbreath has written a wonderful story called “Sunrise Epiphany” which I took to be true, but it turns out to be fictional. This demonstrates Shadesbreath’s huge talent, making the story so much better than I originally thought. I urge those of you who have not read it, to spend a few minutes treating yourself to real literature.

To me the story sounded real because of my own similar experiences which have marked my life. And inspired by John’s story, I want to take this opportunity of sharing some of those experiences with the younger generation, in the hope that they might learn from them and consequently spare themselves some pain.

A very long time ago I was in Odessa, Ukraine, on a lovely summer’s day. I was sitting at this outdoor café, a short way from the almost endless, wide rows of steps leading down to the port, enjoying the view of the calm blue sea below me and the sounds of the port merrily clambering up the steps. An old woman, dressed normally, like everyone else around me, drew my attention simply from her fidgeting, the expression of desperation on her face and the fact that she was looking at me. It was this desperation on her face that made me keep the corner of my eye on her out of curiosity.

She looked around her in extreme anxiety, seemingly unable to find what she was looking for. A light breeze pushed a sheet from a discarded newspaper towards her and it got trapped between her feet. She bent down; picked it up; considered it for a while with obvious doubt; and then, holding it extended in front of her like an offering to a deity, she walked towards me with a mixture of fear, shame, hope, pleading and hesitation.

I was the only one there dressed as a businessman, in a suit and tie, and with my dark hair I looked completely different from the casually dressed blond people sitting around me at the other tables. An obvious foreigner. The old woman covered the distance of thirty odd feet that separated us and stood a few feet away from me, hands still extended with her offering of the crumbled, torn and discarded sheet of Ukrainian newspaper, ready to be told off, ready to be chased away, ready to be despised, but ready to risk it all on off chance that I might take pity on her.

I took the decrepit piece of newspaper from her two extended hands, thanked her and paid for it with a $10 dollar note. The tears run down her face as mine are now as I write down the memory, and soundlessly her lips formed the word “spasiba”, the Russian word for “thank you”, before she walked off.

I knew that there was a black market exchange rate for dollars in Odessa at the time and that the $10 properly exchanged would probably see her through for a week, but after she left I felt ashamed of myself and I felt extremely small. I was a rich man at the time and I could have easily afforded to make that old woman’s life easy for the remainder of it. But I did not. And to this day I feel ashamed of my meanness and my lack of humanity.

But worse than that, I did not learn from the experience and I repeated myself.

On a hot first day of school I went to pick up my youngest at the end of the school day, arriving early, anxious to hear his first impressions. While waiting outside the classroom for the bell to ring, I saw this young man dressed in ugly shorts, dusty sandals and dirty T-shirt, holding a fishnet bag full of plastic bowls, walk along the corridor from a distance. I saw him open the classroom doors without knocking, spent a few moments inside and then come out and repeat the process with the next classroom. It was obvious that he was trying to sell something to the teachers.

His rudeness annoyed me.His dress code annoyed me. His ugly shorts with the waist band askew to the left of centre annoyed me. His lack of respect annoyed me. Everything about him annoyed me, so when he finally came up to me I was ready to crush him with my superiority in all respects. He held out a set of his plastic green bowls and offered them to me saying in the voice of a retarded person.

“Two dollars”.

But my bias had picked up speed and had shut off its ears to the stuttering, tattering voice of the unfortunate youth whom life had punished for no reason at all and certainly through no fault of his own, by making him less than other youths.

So I said a very arrogant and definite “NO”, full of my own superiority and perfection.

“Only two dollars!” he said looking at me with a look that was pleading and actually seemed surprised, but I turned my back on him. That look has hounded me for twenty years. Even to this day. It was only a few seconds later that I realised that he was afflicted, that his surprise was due to the fact that the teachers knew him and bought things from him to help him out because of his disability, so my refusal was unusual to him and, indeed, a surprise. He had not been used to meanness as great as mine.

The shock of my own unkindness - and my ability to be so unkind - stunned me. I turned around and looked for him so that I could make it up to him by buying his stock, but he was gone. The bell rung and my son came running out, but my mind was on the young man I had mistreated. I took my son by the hand and I went around looking into every classroom, trying to find him. But to no avail.

“Only two dollars!” - “Only two dollars!” - “Only two dollars!” It’s not only the three simple words. It is the way he said them that have crushed me and drove my inhumanity home to me. I have actually cried about this many a time I thought of it. Alright, so I am a cry baby. I am a sentimental Greek, so what do you want from me?

So the consistent humanity our friend Shadesbreath constantly displays in his stories serve the purpose all good stories should serve. They remind us of our faults but they also inspire us to be better.

But you see, sometimes our previous acts of meanness are meant to be training experiences to train us into becoming what we were meant to be in the first place. Only we somehow got side-tracked into paths not really meant for us.

So, my own previous experiences were of some use to me as I was driving to Sheremetyevo International Airport in a Moscow taxi. As we drove along some side streets I saw an old woman looking through a garbage bin and my heart went out to her. I thought of her as a young child, with her mother dressing her up in the morning to go to school, with her pig tails and rosy cheeks, anxious to go out into the world and to conquer it. And somehow things went wrong. The wrong man, the wrong education, the wrong job, the wrong place to be born…

It was too late to stop the taxi, but when I went home I called my friend Boris Sposobin in Moscow and asked him to find an old woman for me to support. And he did. He found an old woman who had suffered no end of troubles through the second war and who had lost everyone. I have never met her, but I like to think that I managed to make her life a little better. Thank you Boris and Nina!

So, friend John, we are supposed to learn from our errors and omissions and if your story had not been an imaginary one, the incident you described would have served you well for next time you came across something similar…


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    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      23 months ago from UK

      GW the sadness of reality in life...

    • profile image

      Gypsy willow 

      23 months ago

      I live near a public park that is the hang out for many homeless people. I have a home but the enjoyment is marred by seeing the plight of others.

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Hi there Molometer,

      Very good of you to accept the joke in the spirit it was meant ;-)))

      Look forward to seeing you next time you are travelling North on the A1 or the M1 ;-))

    • molometer profile image


      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hello De Greek,

      Sorry for the nut crunch. Wasn't meant to damage the crown jewels:)

      Your story is an honest account; and haven't we all been there, and turned away? You can't help them all!

      I was admiring your honesty and will to pop in for that coffee someday.

      I know the parable of the rich man and you make a good point.

      Charity is definitely in the back seat these days?

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Ah, friend HH, thank you for the compliment, but I do not feel very brilliant, when I come across talent like Shadesbreath. But it is nice to hear from you anyway ;-))))

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      That was wonderful DeGreek, You are such a brilliant writer. You writing is in plain language and trickles so nicely along like a little stream. I can't reading. It's great.

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK


      Thank you for the kick in the balls ;-)))))))

      I was trying to show that charity is relative to our wealth and our psychological condition at any given time. Meaning that if you give charity that is the equivalent of a week’s cost of living to the recipient, it cannot really be enough - if you can afford to give a great deal more without feeling it. By the same token of course, a poor person giving charity that is equivalent to a day’s work for the giver, is really something to admire.

      I was also trying to show that our prejudices can lead us into acts and omissions that are not normally a part of our normal selfs.

      Many thanks for your comments and if you are ever in the Midlands, please pass by for a coffee ;-)


      A callous individual ;-)))))

    • molometer profile image


      6 years ago from United Kingdom


      A brutally honest account of a callous individual that learns some humility.

      I don't think many people would have the courage to bare their own shortcomings as you have here, and for that I commend you.

      How many have turned their faces away everyday from something the could help to fix.

      Voted up well done

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      My sweet friend GL, I cannot for a minute believe that you of all people could ever be deliberately unkind to anyone ;-))

    • Green Lotus profile image


      6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      DeGee, Sometimes we find great inspiration from other writers here on HP. That experience is rare, but both you and Shades have given me the courage to take a deeper look at my own oftentimes two-faced sense of humanity. Thanks for doing so with such style and compassion.

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Brother Christopher, how right you are. But in my case I was very quick to pick up on other's boorish behaviour, but not my own. :-)))

      Thank you for your words of comfort. :-)

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Friend FP, regrettably we can never make amends through third parties to the people we have hurt intentionally or otherwise. The older I get the more critical I become of myself. I shudder at my arrogance and at my self-satisfied, ridiculous, self-perceived superiority of my youth.

      But thank you for trying to make me feel better ;-))

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      My sweet DRBJ, you are just biased in my favour ever since we became engaged, but thank you for the kind words anyway :-)))

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      We all have moments in our life that we regret, and each of us has behaved in a boorish, dismissive manner at some stage. It is how we learn from these times, and make up for them, that is our true measure.

      Thanks for pointing out some important truths to us.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      6 years ago

      DG, the fact that you were able to recognise your 'meanness' and make amends for it later proves that you learnt your lesson well! May more of us learn to be that way...:)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Do not beat yourself up, dimi, dear,with remembrances of any times when you failed to show the compassion that I know exists within you. I believe you have more than made up for any lapses in your giving nature during your lifetime, and will continue to do so.

      This hub, BTW, was exceedingly well-written ... but that's no surprise. :)

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Ahhhhhh..... How nice you are friend Robie2. Thank you so much for your kind words. ;-)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      DA Greek-- your hub and Shadesbreath's are like bookends. I loved them both and read them back to back. Your reflections on his story are quite wonderful and both of you show so much courage in revealing your inner selves in them. Between the bookends lie both the simplest and most complicated of human emotions and I identified with you both having experienced my own personal version of your experiences. Lovely writing, important truths and a wonderful spirit. voting up and bookmarking this one.

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Hi John,

      I think that we become enamoured of our achievements and our status and we end up being arrogant. And arrogance is never a source of tenderness. It is easy in retrospect to be critical of our own bad behaviour of the past, in the safety of knowing that we will not have to pay for our errors and omissions – or even our cruelty at times.

      My only feeble excuse is that we are only human, with the vanities and weaknesses that the condition implies. For myself I can only silently ask for forgiveness from the mostly unknown victims of my lack of tenderness and understanding at the time such tenderness and understanding was needed most by those I have denied it to.

      Many thanks for your wonderful stories, which are full of compassion and humanity and which inspire one to look deep into one’s self and to self-reflect.

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Well, friend JamaGenee, you know how much I value your opinion and your friendship, so thank you for the kind words :-)

    • Shadesbreath profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Hiya De Greek. Very thoughtful of you to mention my hub in this, I am grateful and humbled by your kindness and complimentary reception of my work. I have to be honest though, my story was what is officially called "creative non-fiction" so the core events in it, the old woman and the postman, I really did see. So, I think it counts as a lesson, as you describe, because in the main, I tell it as it happened. I confess to projecting (that's the "creative" part of the creative non-ficition) on a lot of it, for I don't really know if she is homeless, if she sleeps in the street, that sort of thing. Certainly all the parts about her never having help are made up, etc.

      Your story (set of stories) in this add to that though. What is it in us, supposedly good, kind people that makes us so indifferent sometimes? Is it some old, remnant of ape survival still swinging in the trees of our genetics through the ages. NO THOSE ARE MY BERRIES, BACK OFF MONKEY OR I'LL KILL YOU. A reflex for the conservation of resources? Or is it procreative? MISSHAPEN APE BACK AWAY, DO NOT MIX YOUR SUNDERED GAMETES INTO MY PROGENY! I think it must be that. And our role as humane humans in this world is to try to get passed the reflex, particularly in times of excess.

      Anyway, thanks for the nod to my hub, and thanks for sharing. I'm glad you made it right with karma by helping that last woman. Very cool.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      What a beautiful story, DG! Thank you for sharing this hard-learned lesson with us. ;D

    • De Greek profile imageAUTHOR

      De Greek 

      6 years ago from UK

      Brother Bryan, the more I know you the more I love you ;-)

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      We are seen as we see with both grey and color deemed...thanks for sharing this important message Dimitris.;)


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