Have you ever had those days in which you feel extremely grateful? You might not have a huge house or materialistic trappings of “success,” but you realize how fortunate you are to live in a safe neighborhood, to have great friends who support you and as if that weren’t enough, you’re healthy and have the resources to be comfortable?
But, have you ever been caught in the shadows of other people’s mountains? For all you know, the mountain could have an avalanche on the other side of it, but from below and on the side you’re viewing it from, you can’t see it. All you see is the peak and it always seems to have sun at the top, while you’re caught in the darkness below?
I’ve been there and I think most of us have. One of the most important lessons we’ve always wanted to teach our kids was empathy and gratitude. But how do you teach it?
By getting uncomfortable.
Working in finance, there have been several occasions in which we’ve had to sit with families (often one spouse), and deliver a death benefit. It is a blessing to be able to be there in the toughest moments of decision-making, in the foxhole, with these families and to give them peace of mind as we hold their hands through both the emotional and the financial burdens that come with grief. There have been a few occasions in which we’ve brought (with the family’s permission) one of our older kids with to the client’s home as we sat with them.
To get them out of their bubble. To show them what real loss looks like. To put things in perspective on what’s important and what’s trivial. To bless them with the building foundation of empathy.
Our oldest daughter and I have shared a few experiences that will forever hold memories of gratitude in my heart. One of them was volunteering at the Minneapolis Homeless Shelter, serving meals. Was it out of our comfort zone? Yes. Not the being around diversity part. Our kids have grown up in our family business, surrounded by people of different colors and ethnicity at our parties, drive-in outings etc.
It was uncomfortable because you see the pain and oftentimes defeat in people’s faces and I really wanted people to see we cared, without having them feel less than in any way. Sitting with them while they ate, listening to their stories, showed our daughter that for many people, regardless of background or race etc, they are only a couple paychecks away from being in the spiral of events that put them in the position of being at the “soup kitchen.”
We were also reminded of this while volunteering at the Biloxi Back Bay Mission in Mississippi last year. Biloxi is an area that was heavily hit by Hurricane Katrina and as if that weren’t bad enough, scam crews went through the area afterwards, charging high dollars for shotty work on roofing repairs etc. Now casinos are sucking in tourists who seldom leave the lavish casinos (some of their workers volunteered at the soup kitchens wearing heels, diamonds and sure to get the pictures of them “serving” for their social media publicity, but hardly talk to or look at those they are serving) to see how hurting the surrounding community is.
Not only were we able to help rebuild a house infested with termites and poor repairs (roofing, tearing down what was left of siding and house structure and replacing and painting it all), but we were able to work in the Micah Day Center, offering and monitoring showers for the homeless as we washed their clothes and made them coffee (I heard some great Favre stories from many of these locals who grew up near Kiln). We were able to walk families through the pantry at the food shelf and my daughter saw parents and several grandparents who were raising their grandkids, make decisions as to which canned meat their kids would want over the next month for lunches and suppers.
As emotionally-rocking as it was, we were blessed to see what real hard choices looked like for those families who were scheduled for the end of the month when they had missed the food truck of “good foods” by three weeks and the food truck wouldn’t arrive again for another.
The blessing was that it pulled on our heart. For Jada, helping in the day center. For me, watching parents who were laid off or working just as much or more as the people in our community, but making less and dealing with the aftermath of catastrophe. Losing their homes. Losing their spouses. Losing their jobs. How could that not affect us the same way if we didn’t have family or the right resources to turn to? Thankfully, in the Back Bay Mission House, they do.
It became our new mission to never forget and we’ve passed along our own financial blessings to their food pantry almost every month since, with a letter requesting the financial gifts to be used specifically for fresh fruits and vegetables for those who are scheduled at the food pantry for the last weeks of the month. For those who had to choose between diced fruit cups or canned whatever fruit or vegetable was available.
And as it much as it helps the program, it’s helped us just as much or more. I don’t usually care much about material things. Never have. But whenever I find myself caught in the trappings, I remind myself of these moments and how we can all pull together to support one another when needed.
It’s the most important gift we could ever instill in our kids.