Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to Help

“There are starving kids in Africa.“

I remember hearing this at the dinner table growing up, as I’m sure we all did. Our parents and grandparents unintentionally guilted us into doing something we didn’t want to do because there were kids out there that couldn’t do it. After hearing this for the twentieth time I started to wonder why they couldn’t just box up my leftovers and send them to the poor kids that didn’t have any food. In my 6 year old mind it made perfect sense, so I didn’t understand why my well-meaning suggestion was met with a reprimand.

Thus, here we are some 30 odd years later and I am still hearing and feeling echoes of those conversations, although a bit different. There is always someone that is worse off than me. Of course there is, and I know there is. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot and have seen some very poor areas where homes (if you could call them that) are barely bigger than what I call a bathroom and made out of particle board. I’ve worked in a convalescent home. I’ve sponge bathed ill relatives. I’ve held a dearly loved one as they passed to the other side. I’ve seen more death than most people my age. Yes, I know loss. I know pain. I know betrayal by a loved one. But, I also know that there is always someone out there who is worse off than me. And, maybe, knowing that is what helps me to keep my head up when it becomes increasingly enticing to let it slump instead.

Yes, there is always someone out there who is worse off than me, but does that mean that I should “suck it up” and continue with what I am doing with a smile on my face? Does that mean that I should happily finish my okra knowing that some poor child in Africa can’t have it, as if my feat would help them in some way? Or does it mean that I can decide that I hate okra, and instead take my childish idea of packing up my meal and turn it into a real-life idea that can actually help get nourishment to Africa?

Someone is always worse off than me, but that doesn’t mean that I have to put up with sub-standard relationships, friendships, behavior, jobs, or anything else (including okra). I can acknowledge that there are starving children in Africa (and everywhere else). I can help them. I can honor their pain with a tangible form of assistance, not by eating my Okra 10,000 miles away on the other side of the planet.

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