We are each called to new challenges today. To make a difference, to protect the community, to keep our hope alive. Over the last few weeks, we have seen stories of both tremendous generosity and simple acts of kindness. And of compassion and resolve from leaders such as this from Queen Elizabeth.
As we move forward, Queen Elizabeth’s challenge to act in a way which will make us proud years from now rings true. How we respond to these times defines us. Consider the acts of this little boy working to secure PPE for his local hospital.
What are we here for anyway? What’s the point? Some people joke, ‘Life is hard, and then you die’, and there’s some truth to that. We are finite. We struggle. But there is purpose to life, and it lies in what we do for others. Andre Agassi says,
“Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting value or meaning. This is why we’re here.”
Others joke ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins,’ but those things we do purely for ourselves are vanity. Instead, when we use our gifs and talents to reach out and help others, we’ve upped the good in the world. We’ve made a difference.
Though isolated, each of us has the ability to reach out. Phone calls, cards, texts, care packages. Others need to hear from you. They need to know someone cares. And you need to know you care about others. If you have extra, you can share. If you are going to the store, you can pick up something for someone who can’t go out. So many ways to help. And in the helping, we help ourselves as well.
In every darkness, a bit of light will shine to light your way. It may be in the acts of kindness and generosity you see, in words of wisdom you remember and hold close to your heart, or memories of past struggles that you have gotten through to the other side. We draw strength and courage from each other, working together. That community will sustain us.
In his book, Healing the Divide, editor James Crews collects poem of kindness and compassion. Here is one by Danusha Laméris for you to carry with you today:
“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. ‘Don’t die,’ we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’”
We will get through this present darkness. Hold tight to the little kindnesses, savor them, and spread them where you can to light the way for those behind you.
For more, a reminder that we were made for times like these.
There is something about an anonymous gift that brings special joy to both the giver and the receiver. For the person getting the gift, it makes you feel like the whole world cares, that around any corner is the person who cared enough to make your life special. And to the giver, it strips off all the status and pride and self-satisfaction you may get from a public gift and, with the lusciousness of a secret, fills you with love and gratitude that you are in a position to make a difference.
Consider this delightful story about a somewhat anonymous giver, call him George Walker, and his gift to a young boy in the Philippines.
I want to be your new pen pal.
I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met I love you already.
I live in Texas – I will write you from time to time – Good Luck. G. Walker”
Now, after President Bush’s death, we have learned that he was George Walker, but look at how much joy is in his writing when it is semi-anonymous. He is embracing the true spirit of giving.
For more on anonymous giving, take a look at this feature I wrote on anonymous giving filled with inspiring stories.
What are some things you might do anonymously to spread your love?
Consider the inspiring story of Amanda Southworth, a teen who attempted suicide seven times but then went on to use her experience to create an app to help others facing debilitating depression. Amanda explained what helped her make that transition:
What saved her: a sixth-grade robotics club in 2011, which introduced her to the possibilities of technology and inspired her to soak up knowledge about web development and artificial intelligence from the internet and textbooks.
Her first app, AnxietyHelper, a mental health resource guide, debuted in the app store in September 2015 during her ninth-grade Latin class. Her excited classmates downloaded it, and she finished the day with 18 users. Even that small achievement gave her belief in her own power and a sense of purpose, Southworth says.
“I was always very destructive toward myself. Coding is the opposite. It’s about creating. It’s about taking different characters on a keyboard and transforming them into something bigger than you,” she said.
In May 2017, she launched a mobile app called Verena for the LGBTQ community after friends were bullied in the tense political climate around the presidential election. Verena, which means protector in German, locates hospitals, shelters and police stations and users can create a list of contacts to be alerted in an emergency.
“Everything in my life has shown me that both good and bad things in this world will continue to happen and that’s out of our control. But it’s what we do with the things that happen to us that can make all of the difference,” she said in a TedX talk last November in Pasadena, California. “My name is Amanda Southworth, I’m 15 years old, a junior in high school and I’m still alive.”
Southworth’s conclusion that “it’s what we do with the things that happen to us that can make all of the difference” is profound. Each of us faces challenges and hardships. But each of us also has the ability to use our experiences to make a contribution for others, to make our lives count.
How much do we really know about the people we see day to day? Sometimes we may inadvertently consider the people around us extras in the movie about our own life rather than complicated individuals with their own stories, hopes, and dreams.
In this remarkable TED talk, Dave Isay shares how he came up with StoryCorp, an attempt to preserve the stories of whole generations of people, including the forgotten and overlooked people in our society.
He talks about how he looks back on the recorded interview he made with his own, now passed, father and reflects on how vital it is to ask the questions and record the answers. Have we taken the time to ask our parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were young? What their hopes and dreams were. Who mattered to them and why. What they are most proud of and what lessons they have learned.
Imagine how much richer our own histories would be if we could hear about the hopes and dreams of the relatives who came before us. Imagine how much richer our cultural history would be if it were informed by so many perspectives.
Sure, living generously blesses those who receive your gift. But giving also blesses you as it reminds you that you can make a difference, that you have purpose, and that no one is as equipped to meet the particular challenge in front of you in this place and time, as you.
The Japanese Macaques, snow monkeys, are a deeply hierarchical society, their status in the group inherited from their mothers. Living in frigid temperatures, the upper class snow monkeys spend their time in natural hot springs, leaving the rest to huddle in the snow and look on as they luxuriate. The Emperor Penguins also live in frigid conditions, huddled together, but they constantly rotate, letting those most exposed on the outside come to the center for warmth. They take turns. It keeps those in the center from overheating and those on the fringes from freezing.
Sharing is an interesting phenomenon. It’s easy to see that when a society shares its resources, the whole group benefits, but how does that play out in the human species? Do we see the benefit to the whole group from sharing what we have, or do we focus on clutching more and more into our own fists? Some humans are uniquely able, it seems, to rationalize selfish behavior even when looking directly at the needs of others. But others consider their own resources an opportunity to help others. This is true both on an individual level, and on a larger societal level. It’s an interesting matter of perspective.