Helping Others Easier Than You Think

Cleaning out the garage never felt so good.

My wife is on a one-woman quest to get our garage purged of items we’ve long stopped using. You know the ones, the weed eater I kept saying I would get around repairing or bikes both kids outgrew. The latter, the kids became adults; the former, well, I quit the yard.

My point is what happened after loading old blue, our family SUV, with an eclectic mishmash of items. Imagine randomly clicking all over eBay you get the idea.

Our community is fortunate to be home to a Salvation Army center.

In the middle of the afternoon, as hot as the gods could make a Texas afternoon, I pulled old blue up to donation dock located in the rear of the Salvation Army.

Two people came out, one carried a clipboard – the other one of biggest smiles you’ll run across.

“Hey, how are you today!”

While we both shared the same heat wave moving across the concrete, his smile seemed to take the edge off the temperature.

“Bikes?” he said. “Awesome. These will be so useful.”

Unstrapping the first one from the rack, I thought back to the people sitting in the shade on the other side of the building. Quiet and moving slowly to stay beneath the dark cover, they looked just like anyone else. And they are. The only difference is they need something in their life. While some might point to a warm meal or a place to put their head down a night, there is more.

Everyone has something someone else needs more than you.

As I unloaded the second bike I thought of one individual sitting across the entrance beneath with an umbrella between him and the sun. Another rested beneath the early afternoon shade of a building reading a well-worn paperback book. These items, which I know I have more than I need, find an amplified value when the come to the Salvation Army.

With the bikes unloaded, I began unloading boxes from inside the back of the truck.

“A skateboard, really?”

Moments later I handed up a camel back wicker basket.

“Wow, someone is going to love this,” he said.

What I was discovering is a truckload of items we’d long stopped valuing miraculously appreciated during the short drive across town. In the eyes of those accepting the goods for the Salvation Army, they could seem them in the hands of others – making a difference in someone’s life.

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have too much stuff – stuff being a catchall term for old umbrellas that could find a use between someone and the unwelcome weather or a pile of books that could help another escape for an afternoon.

A short while later I walked back into the comfortable cool air conditioning of our home. And with my new eyes, I saw dozens of items I wanted to grab and put in the back of old blue. I hope this feeling doesn’t’ fade away.

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Love of Family Our Most Valuable Asset

 

As much as time passes, it remains the same.

This past weekend we hosted a family reunion on Galveston Island. My mother’s side of the family, all four of the Scottish sisters long passed, continue to find ways to pull the clan together. Their spirit is not only ingrained inside each of us who continue to carry the gene, but as tangible as the laughter filling the room as the wooden pieces of another of Jenga come crashing down onto a kitchen table.

Family, when done right, is a beautiful thing.

The truth is, the nearly two dozen of us could get together on a remote patch of real estate with only the shade of a single tree to share and still the laughter would never stop.

My mother and her three sisters grew up with nothing but each other. Living in a small cobbled stone cottage in the Highlands of Scotland, the four sisters learned early on their happiness was always within arm’s reach – that is each other.

After the oldest sister became a war bride, moving to America with her American sailor husband, the other three found their way to the same Midwestern community. At one point, three of the four lived within a square mile of each other – my brother and I able to easily ride our bikes to visit either for a glass of water. The sisters were not about to let a little thing like the immense size of the globe keeping them apart for long.

Holidays of our childhoods were filled with food, music, and laughter. And from my seat, a folding metal chair at the kid’s table, I watched this miracle of love repeat itself year after year.

Yes, it was that good.

Our reunions began within a few years of the passing of the last sister. I believe we all knew something special, something that reenergized our souls, was missing. We also knew, the four sisters would want us to not let the deep bonds they’d ingrained in us to fade. Those of us left behind, although now adults and scattered across the globe, ached for each other.

I’m proud of my family. My grandmother spent her final days dressing in costumes and doing abbreviated Highland Flings for those she shared her retirement home. I grew up with two cousins who’d come home for the holidays with long hair and mysterious tales of a far away land called California. And the four sisters would fight, stop talking to each other, and get over it before the next weather front would come to town.

I learned from the four sisters, love of family is our most valuable companion in life.

Those of us who sat at the children’s table now have our own adult children. And to our children, the laughter and love the four sisters is an all too brief memory. For those of us who watched from the front row, it is the love of family we hope to pay forward.

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Small Giant Speaks of Big Lesson

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, died within a week of one of the ugliest chapters in modern American race relations broke out – leaving 5 Dallas police officers dead – and proving as a society, we have yet to learn from the painful lessons of our past.

I met Elie Wiesel the year following the attacks of September 11th. Emotions were painfully raw; Americans were searching for answers about the disturbing world they suddenly found themselves thrust into.

For those who are unfamiliar, Wiesel penned the book, Night, chronicling his surviving the Holocaust as a child. And for anyone with a heart, the book is one of the most painful reads you’ll ever experience. I vividly remember involuntarily tossing the book onto the coffee table as if the pages became superheated in my fingers. Moments later I also discover tears rolling down my cheeks.

Yes, Wiesel’s message is that powerful.

This week, watching news reports of five Dallas police officers being shot while at a peaceful demonstration, I can’t help but hear Wiesel’s words again. The entire chapter, from those leading up to the demonstrations to the deadly actions of a lone gunman, all run counter to what Wiesel preached to the world.

After visiting for a few moments, Wiesel stepped away and onto the stage of a local high school auditorium. Approaching a podium, that challenged him for both size and weight, he adjusted the microphone. Moments later, you realized you were in a room with a giant.

“We should never seek to tolerate,” he said. “Rather, we should seek to understand.”

I’m sure, like many others, I went home that evening without fully appreciating the gravity of his message. Some things better reveal themselves after marinating in both time and events.

Fortunately, for me, Wiesel’s words took deep roots in my heart. As time passed, and world events included war and ugly tag team partner, suffering, populated current the news, his words bloomed inside me.

To tolerate, he said, was to put up with, to accept, to do nothing. To tolerate, was to be passive, to miss the opportunity to grow and understand the world from another’s point of view. Understanding was the secret – the truest way to see the world from around us – whether Dallas or Dunkirk. And only by doing so, you could respond instead of reacting. The former allows time for thoughtful and intelligent actions. The latter, an emotional action, does not allow for one to fully appreciate the entirety of the situation.

Today Wiesel’s words are as much a part of my being as a compass to a ship’s captain. The wisdom he shared, the seeking to understand the motivations of others, lays the groundwork to resolving differences and constructively forward.

We should never lose our motivation to understand nor passively allow injustices to stand unchecked. For to do so, is to simply tolerate. And we are better than that.

Just remember the giant who spoke from behind the small podium.

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