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Everyday Ethics

Happy Moral Monday! This morning I wanted to share a story that warmed my heart when I read about it on NPR last week — a homeless man leaving millions to several non-profits, including NPR.

When NPR’s Richard Siegel heard his station listing a funding credit in the name of Richard Walter’s estate, he was curious who this mystery man was. Naturally, he Googled him. What he found was a surprising  story; Walter’s (who died two years ago) had been an engineer from AlliedSignal Corp.; an honors graduate of Purdue with a master’s degree; and a Marine. But when he retired, he gave up more than a career, he gave up all his material possessions — he became homeless. He slept on the grounds of a senior center and ate at a hospital.

Walters didn’t become an aimless, shell of a man we so often imagine homeless people to be. He was involved in investing, and paid his income taxes. He had friends — good friends such as Rita Belle, a nurse he met at a senior center and who eventually became the executer of his estate.

And at the end of this material-free life, he split his $4 million between different causes. NPR received $400,000, as did several other non-profits, including the Catholic mission in Phoenix where Rita Belle works (Belle also received a bequest).

Growing up, I would read Hindu
stories about shedding one’s earthly confinements to reach Moksha, the final
release from one’s worldly conception of self. That sounds great, I would think,
but what about those you leave behind? Wasn’t it ultimately selfish to shed your responsibilities in order to achieve something
solely for yourself
?

 
That’s a complicated question of an ancient philosophy, but for me, this is a story about a man who shed his earthly attachments without forgetting to care
for the world he left behind.
 
Of course, since Walters was a self-professed atheist,
I doubt he would appreciate the religious meaning I take from his actions.
Still, I consider him well-worth a mention on Moral Monday.

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