I've found that when I make a good play and take my pitcher off the hook, it's just natural for me to feel better than if I made a flashy play that doesn't do anything except make me look good for the grandstands. It works the same way off the ball field, too. Doing a good turn for a neighbor, a friend, or even a stranger gives me much more satisfaction than doing something that helps only myself. It's as if all people were my teammates in this world and things that make me closer to them are good, and things that make me draw away from them are bad. Baseball Hall of Famer Bobby DoerrI have been busy this past week making presentations for the United Way's fall campaign. Yesterday was no different. I had two presentations to make, one of them to a company in an industrial area -- plant staff and management got together over a potluck lunch to kick-off their Days of Caring campaign. I was the guest speaker.
Before I arrived the host had called to ask me to gear my presentation around the theme, "We don't have it so bad. Look at all the people who are worse off than us."
While I think it is important to recognize that, 'we don't have it so bad', I believe it is more important to give because giving is the right thing to do. Because we can. Because we want to be our best in all areas of our life. Because we want to express our gratitude for what we have been given.
If not me, who? If not now, when?
Giving is receiving.
In my presentation, I sometimes tell the story of a former client of the shelter where I work who first came to the shelter at the age of 60, penniless, depressed, confused and, a crack addict. He hadn't been an addict in his youth. A Masters in Education, he was a teacher, a guidance counsellor, a father, a husband. Life was good, or at least manageable, until he started to feel the loss of being cut off from the people he loved, and the man he believed himself to be. The marriage went first. He lost the role of 'husband'. It was a big blow to him. He'd been a husband for thirty plus years. He had trouble adjusting.
In the absence of that role, he took on a new persona. Lonely. Depressed. He looked for ways to cope with these sensations and found a bar at the end of his street.
"I should have known better," he said. "I did. But what I knew wasn't important. I wasn't thinking straight. I needed people and found them. I couldn't imagine it would turn out so bad."
It was a neighbourhood kind of place. Regulars sitting on bar stools, nursing their drinks. A dart board in the corner. The darkness of the bar was comforting. He knew it was keeping him out of the light, but he wanted company. He didn't need to talk to them. He just wanted to be around them. He started going more often. Twice a week. Four times. Every night. He met a stranger. A guy on the next bar stool. They started chatting. 'I'll be your friend,' the stranger said. He believed the stranger. 'Why wouldn't I,' he asked. 'I had no reason to lie to him. Why would I think he'd lie to me?' He told him of his loneliness. The broken marriage. The loss of identity. His new friend promised he could help him feel better. 'I'll show you. It's out in my car.' Out in the car was a bag of crack. 'This will be way better than the booze. It'll help you forget.' He gave it to him for free. At least for a couple of weeks until he knew the man was hooked. Then he had to pay.
With crack, his drive, his commitment to work to everything else evaporated. His self-esteem took a dive. The job went next. Early retirement. His self-competency plummeted. He didn't open his mail for months. Bills went unpaid. Knocks at the door unanswered. And then, he lost the condo. Lost the respect of his two children. Lost all contact.
Until he came to the shelter.
There he found himself again. It took awhile. Four years. But today, he is living on his own, still struggling to keep his addiction at bay, but surviving. Living. He's reconnected with his daughter. His son will not speak to him. Yet. He's gained a lot. He still feels the loss of a life he loved. Still feels the loss of the numbness crack gave him. But, he's waking up to himself these mornings. Waking up to the belief that this is better than what he had found on the streets.
When we give, I told the crowd, we help people like this man who was so lost on the road of life he ended up in a place he never could have imagined. A homeless shelter.
No one imagines ending up in a shelter. No one imagines falling so hard the only place that can catch them is the one place where you have to lose everything to get to it.
No one can imagine.
Yet, it happens. Every day.
Two years ago in the United States, few people ended up homeless because of foreclosures. Today, it is estimated that at least twenty-five percent of those falling into homelessness are doing so because of foreclosure.
Who could have imagined?
It's hard to imagine what it's like living in a shelter. Sleeping with, as one client called it, '1200 roommates'. The loss of privacy. Self-efficacy. The loss of personal space. Belongings. Voice. Following rules you had no say in creating, because in a community rules 'keep people safe' and make things run smoothly. Of having to eat what you're given, when you're given it. Having to ask for the very things you used to take for granted. Toothpaste. Shampoo. A towel. A cup of coffee.
It's hard to imagine that beauty can flourish in a shelter. That human spirits can find their wings and soar.
And yet they do. Everyday.
And every time we give, our time, money, energy to a place like the shelter, we are sharing our light to help those who have lost everything find their way back home.
We can't imagine what it's like to lose everything and live in a shelter. We can imagine what it feels like to give because we can. To share our time, energy, money to create a world of difference in the lives of those who have lost their way.
The Canadian Blood Service has a slogan: Blood. It's in you to give.
I believe we could all say, "My best. It's in me to give."
My best arises, as Bobby Doerr suggests, when I look at the world as my teammates. When I give of my best, I feel better. In giving, I create a ripple effect that connects me to all that is good and right and beautiful and loving in all of us. In giving, I receive the gift of having lived up to my best. And the circle continues.
The question is: Are you focused on 'how bad' you've got it, or are you making yourself feel better by sharing the best of you to create the best all around you?