The man who shreds fresh coconut flesh in the street market of the Jatiúca neighborhood smiles at me when I approach his stand. He has one hand on a coconut. The other arm is held by a sling under his buttoned-up blue shirt and his hand peeps through the space between two buttons. As I approach the shredder, he shows me his pride: a machine made of two iron bowls, the top complete with a shredding tool.
Filled with pity I try to conceal, I ask him how long he has been shredding coconuts. He tells me, with a smile on his face, that he’s been shredding cococunts for three years, two withthe help of the shredder. I’m confused by his happiness, although I’ve seen it in the face of other street market workers and homeless for so many years that it really shouldn’t surprise me anymore.
I continue speaking with the man, asking him how he found his shredder and if it has helped him do his job. I half-expect him to sigh back, to share with me how hard his life is, shredding coconuts under the hot sun for middle class and rich folks. But he never does. Under the burning sun of mid day, he continues to smile, and tells me he is so grateful to God, who has been so kind to him. I stop feeeling pitiful for him and start feeling pity for myself. Here is a man who knows how to be happy with so little, a man who is an example to everyone.
I want to hug the man, to tell him he’s an inspiration. I want to buy all his coconuts and make him wealthy somehow… Then I realize that he has much more than any money I could ever give him. I take a picture of him so I never forget that I too, should be as happy and grateful as this man, if not a thousand times more. Not because I am any better than him, but because life has been kind, because I still have both my arms, and because I don’t have to stand under the hot sun, shredding three coconuts for 2.50 reais.
As the end of the year approaches, I hope you take the time to reflect on all the wonderful things and people in your life. I hope you also take the time to give back to those who may not be as fortunate, either financially or in kind words. But above all, I hope that in 2012, you never become too proud to walk around and learn lessons from the man who shreds your coconuts.