Being Grounded Key to True Happiness

A friend was recently telling me about he deeply admires his father-in-law.

“He is so content, wants for nothing, and almost kind to a fault with others,” he said.

My breathing paused as his love for his father-in-law pieced my heart. I thought about his words and how any of us would be honored for someone to one day say the same of us. If only we could all one day measure up to such a humble and honorable standard.

Going through life is not easy. While the earth is home to 7.4 billion people, we tend live within tiny fraction of people – listening, watching, and interacting with them. And no matter how many or few, we must always protect against allowing the outside world to overly shape our personal self-worth or self-importance. To do so is to let go of the anchor of reality and set sail in across a sea without a rudder – a dangerous journey.

I’ve been there. And I also believe to a certain extent, most of us have been there at one time or another. The road through life is filled with material attractions and ego-stroking words. Like the Sirens in Greek mythology, they work to pull us away from the anchor of reality. And most times, that center of reality is your family and those who genuinely love you.

In today’s world, the Siren’s words can be interpreted as the need to accumulate large and glamorous amounts of material objects, accepting hollow praise as genuine, and losing your perspective that you are simply another rider on this big blue planet. Our journey and time is temporary – and to a great extent, so is our influence on the world around us.

Which brings me back to my friend’s father-in-law. Many times, the most successful people in the world are playing a different game – one scored by being humble, helpful, and honest. They understand the value of not what the world around them thinks, but what those who love them feel. And they know the collection of material objects beyond what they need falls into a larger bucket labeled wants. And finally, they know their word is this bond, their actions the signature on which truly defines them to those who they love.

Recently my brother-in-law passed. To say he would give you the shirt off his back would be a literal example of his generosity. He lived a humble life with a few good friends and surrounded by a family’s deep love. And like my friend’s father-in-law, he was content, wanted for nothing, and kind to a fault with others.

The world needs more people like my friend’s father-in-law and my wife’s brother who recently passed. They are the symbols of who and what we should all strive to achieve in life – a place where we are comfortable with ourselves, focused on the needs of others, and know the real riches in life are measured by the love surrounding us and not in our bank account.

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Small investment pays off big

The most thoughtful gesture I witnessed in the past week involved a small bar of soap and a travel size tube of toothpaste.

Driving to the airport tends to bring a familiar landscape – brake lights ahead of me, billboards to the side, and someone who needs help standing on a street corner. Last week what happened to the last one changed my perception of how to help others.

As the light off the highway exit turned red, I slowed to a stop. From a half-dozen spots from the front I noticed a woman with a handwritten cardboard sign walking up to cars. Some windows opened and an arm extended with a paper dollar or two. But from the third car came something unusual – a clear zip lock bag filled with toiletries. The woman grasped the bag closely to her chest and leaned towards the car offering heartfelt thanks.

The light ahead changed – but so did my understanding of how to help others. As I entered the intersection I discovered myself telling myself to remember sometimes a few dollar bills can be less meaningful than a bag of travel-sized thoughtfully packed for someone in need.

We are all human – and we all have our pride. For some though, a detour can take them to place where they not only recognize their surroundings, but the face in the mirror.

There is a dynamic local church that tries to remember this as well. Every few months they gather up hair stylists who volunteer their time to cut the hair of those in need. The result is remarkable – transforming or returning many to the person they know they are inside.

And for someone living beneath a concrete underpass, a bar of soap or toothpaste can do the same.

A friend of mine invited me to join him and he and friends took socks to those living outside. A staple most of us take for granted is actually one of the more valuable items to those living without a roof over their heads. And as anyone knows, wet or cold feet are difficult to ignore.

Which brings me back to the incredibly thoughtful person in car number three from the light. Somewhere along the line they learned there was something they could do beyond pulling out a few paper dollars from their billfold. Could be their paths once crossed with someone who tipped them off. Or it could be they read an insightful article. Or it could be they were once on the other side of the widow.

From my vantage point in car number six I will never know. But what I do know is the powerful emotional response the plastic bag filled with toiletries brought from the woman in need.

Next time I find myself standing in front of the travel-size toiletries at the store, I think I will double up. After all, if doing so can so easily help someone recapture the person hidden in plain view, it could be the best investment I ever make.

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Fireworks Reflect American Dream

When we closed down my childhood home I was ready to let everything go into the back of a large white Salvation Army Truck. My hope was there was something left behind from my childhood could help someone else’s life going forward. Could be the pair of green high back chairs or set of mismatched dishes. But the small cloth American stick flag my mother kept on her dresser went home with me.

I am afirst-generation American because my mother believed in the American Dream. Growing up in Scotland – a small child during the Second World War – she wanted to leave the wars, the limited economic opportunities, and everyone and everything she knew behind for America. Her children, she promised herself, would be Americans. She was 21-years of age when she sold everything she owned for a one-way ticket on a New York bound liner across the Atlantic.

American was not easy. She worked as a waitress or low-wage jobs while working her way forward. But beyond the paycheck, there was one item she wanted more than anything else – citizenship of the United States. In sorting through a box of jewelry and letters I ran across a brown newspaper clipping. The list was recently naturalized citizens. My mother’s name printed alongside others who were collectively on the same journey. I kept that as well.

But her work was far from done. Shortly afterwards she married and settled down to raise a family in the Heartland – almost as geographically centered as if she’d sat down with a slide rule and calculated the center of America. But her American Dream did not start and end with her – she wanted to deeply embed the essence of the American Dream in her children.

I learned more about life sitting at the kitchen table than I ever did in a classroom. In my mind I can see her sitting down across from my younger brother and me telling stories of how America was special and unique from the world she had left behind. The opportunities, the wonder, the endless ability to reinvent one’s self.

No matter how much time passed, the fire of the American Dream burned brightly inside of her.

She loved America like no one I’ve ever known – right down to her final heartbeat in 1978.

Rarely a day passes that I do not recognize this ember of optimism glowing inside of me – ready at a moment’s notice to jump in and help change the world around me. I will help a stranger, I will take a risk on someone down on their luck, and I will forever believe whatever comes can be overcome. America works that way, so mother planted inside of me. Whatever comes your way can be overcome if you work hard enough and dream big enough.

I hold the Fourth of July dearly. In the fireworks I see my mother’s face – each burst representing the sparkle in her eyes and the land she loved with all of her heart.

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