Touchstone for a teenager

Touchstone for a teenager

It happened a long time ago, when like many of you, I loved being a teenager. It was a time of awakening when several things around me began appearing in a new and different light.

I had all along been the baby of the house, willing to listen, to obey and run errands. Now I saw a new ‘me’ in me and I began to assert myself much more. I would no longer be content with hand-me-downs when my sister got new clothes. They could, I argued, be only considered a bonus and I too deserved new ones. My mother agreed without a murmur and what a victory that appeared to me! I reveled, though secretly, in my brand-new ability to assert myself.

Of course this new-found power led me into sticky situations and that was when I hated being a teenager. The rebel in me had come to the fore and would not be denied. The family as a whole wondered what had happened to me. They asked me time and again whether I had some unspoken difficulties in school. They could not understand that my mind was swimming with unanswered questions and that I was struggling to find solutions to them. One incident in this respect stands out in my mind because it transformed itself into a learning experience for life.

Like all children, one of the biggest spaces in my heart was reserved for my mother. I loved her, respected her and was ready to do all I could to please her. I knew too that she loved me with all her heart. In my home, Saturdays were set apart for charity. Coins of small denomination were kept in a bowl. The needy knew about it and trooped in every Saturday morning for their share. Very often, it was I who looked after the distribution. It was late one morning and the bowl was empty. A beggar, an able-bodied man, came in. Seeing the bowl empty, I went to the box that held my mother’s house-keeping money. Picking up a five-rupee note, I handed it to him. His face lit up with surprise and pleasure and he walked away quickly. My mother, who had seen me parting with the money, asked me where I had got it.
When I told her what I had done, she became very angry. She spoke to me as she had never done before.

“That was very wrong of you,” she said, sharply. “How could you take the money without my permission? That was far too much to give away. Remember you can give in charity in that manner only when you have earned it. Don’t you ever forget that!”

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I had never heard speak to me in that manner. And she refused to listen to any explanation that I tried to offer.

I was devastated. I could not for the life of me see what wrong I had committed. I had not used the money for myself, had I? It was only for charity that I had taken it. Why was she so infuriated? I would show her!

I sulked and picked at my food that night. But she seemed not to notice and remained firm. I had, in the end, to relent. We never ever mentioned the incident after this, but it had stirred and affected me deeply. I told myself that I would earn one day and prove my ability to that end. I threw myself into my studies and worked very hard.

It took a year perhaps, but one happy day the import of what she had tried to convey sunk into me. I was indeed wrong in taking the money without her permission. And yes, one can perform charity only with one’s own hard-earned money. You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul!

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