Finding the meaning of life on a subway

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Finding the meaning of life on a subway

I was on subway line No. 3, heading to work, when I was suddenly confronted by three beggars back to back. The first was an old blind woman with a radio hung around her neck playing music. I have seen these beggars on train rides before, and just like on those occasions, this woman walked by, receiving a few donations. Her presence did not affect me and as soon as she passed by, I continued reading my Reader’s Digest.
A few moments later, I was abruptly interrupted by an old lady who stuck her head in front of my magazine and asked me for 1,000 won in return for a stick of gum or a box of needles. I thought, “Geeze, I only brought 7,000 won, so I could have dinner tonight.” I looked at her, but she just lowered her head. Perplexed, I gave her 1,000 won and told her I didn’t want the gum, but she left it anyway. I was so flustered that I decided to stand and get out of the beggars’ path for the rest of the way.
But I was horrified to realize that I was standing in front of a man with no legs crawling on the floor. In shock, I quickly turned and headed back to my seat, feeling even more disoriented. I wondered why the sight of these people made me feel this way; and sitting quietly I opened a notebook and began to write.
I was reminded that I had forgotten an important value, gratitude. I am one of the few people in this world with all the needs for survival and more. I have a loving family and friends, financial backing if my savings become depleted and most important, I am happy. I am studying what I want to, getting fit at the gym, meeting new people and gaining experience from a great internship. But my satisfaction with life means little to almost everyone besides me because I have been doing nothing to make others happy.
There are millions ― if not billions ― of individuals in this world suffering from poverty. According to Unicef, “Nearly one in four people, or 1.3 billion, live on less than $1 per day.” And being so sheltered in Korea, I forgot this fact.
The greatest men and women always show compassion toward individuals of every social and economic class. The examples of individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa should be examined and followed. I knew that I had to expose myself to the reality of the world to begin making my life a productive one. Now that I am reminded by the beggars on the subway ride to be grateful for what has been given to me, I am born again with new-found compassion for those who were born into this world less fortunate than I.


by Alice Jung

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