So, the problems today are rampant. Watch the news for 5 minutes and it can be so overwhelming if you let yourself really take in what’s being reported. And the political climate? Honestly, I don’t even want to go there. There’s so much distrust, disrespect, and disarray…and the games being played are so obvious to the average citizen. I’ve never felt quite so disconcerted with it all and have always taken the privilege to vote as a gift and responsibility. But now? I find myself rolling my eyes when the candidates start their little rhetorical games as the problems in our state, in our nation, in our world, just seem to be grow so incredibly big. Giant. Astronomically Huge.
And what can one person do? That’s the thing that concerns me about all of this. The problems are so embedded and intertwined and “solutions” go so far to the left or right we never find common ground, we never find viable solutions. Give. Take. Never Share. All. Nothing. Very little compromise and reason from all sides. I am not going to get into my religious or political views now because I just wanted to share something that was a light bulb of sorts for me this week. And I’m thinking it can apply to every one of us no matter where we stand on the spectrum of political and religious views.
I was driving past the mall and saw a very skinny, long-haired, bearded man who looked like he hadn’t showered in quite a while. He was holding up a sign that said “Homeless”. I had a lot of thoughts rush through my mind. You know the kind. “I can’t give him money because he’ll probably use it on drugs.” or “Me stopping wouldn’t make a difference anyway.” or “It’ll take 15 minutes to go get him something and come back and I’m in a rush…” But I took the 15 minutes. Just got him some bottles of water, peanuts and granola bars. But do you know what the pervading thoughts and feelings were as I drove back to give him the little offering? Embarrassment that the gift was so small and that maybe I should just turn around because it’s so small. But I trudged on and continued to feel this very real sense of feeling that it’s almost humiliating to give him something so small when the problem is so big.
As I turned into the mall, a person in the car in front of me was giving him some money. He said thank you and walked back to the curb. And then it was my turn. I hoped that the person in front of me was able to give him more than I was about to give. I pulled up and handed him the bag as I started to say, “I’m sorry it’s not…” but I didn’t finish my sentence because he said, “OHHH! Thank you so much!! THANK You!” It was a 90 degree day where the sticky hot air must’ve been exhausting him and the feel of the cold water bottle in his hand was what he needed at that moment. At that moment. And at that moment I felt a flood of relief and a different kind of emotion. Thankful. A new sense of Hope. An understanding like that of a dim lightbulb being turned up to illuminate more…
Because yes, yes,yes, the problems are so big. But then again, some of the needs are also so small. And in that moment, some needs…some very temporary, very small needs were met. I almost didn’t bring him water. I mean, I couldn’t solve the homelessness, the poverty, the isolation …and so I almost turned around. Would he be thirsty and hungry again in a short period of time? Yes. But for this moment, something was done. So this is why I felt hopeful—even though the problems are so incredibly big, that doesn’t mean that our little cups of water can’t make a difference for one person, in one moment. And I want to have the courage to bring my small offering rather than no offering at all.
I’m so concerned about our nation, our world. There’s a growing sense of such disdain for politics and being involved because the problems are glaringly apparent and the solutions are not. I’m concerned for young people as they throw up their hands and say that they aren’t going to vote because they don’t have any respect for the candidates and ‘it won’t make any difference anyway’. But for me, today, I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe differences can be made in a small way, and I got a very real visual of what that can look like. I heard the joy and saw the look in the man’s eyes that said it made a teeny tiny difference at that time.
I’ve joked (but I’m serious) that my kids can put “She did what she could” as an epitaph on my tombstone. There are countless things that I will absolutely never be able to do or accomplish, for them, for me, for the world around me. But I have to daily ask the question, am I doing what I can in the here and now? And if I am, maybe it will make a teeny tiny small difference in the lives of those around me. I am so incredibly thankful for the reminder that even little things can make a difference. Even if it’s a little difference, it’s a difference. Thankful for that. Just some thoughts to continue to ponder…
P.S. There are those who will speak loudly with messages much like that which I was telling myself as I drove back to the mall. The “it won’t make a difference-” sayers. The there’s “no solution” -tellers, and “might-as-well-nots”. They can be very loud. Very very loud. And deeply discouraging. Am thinking we need to turn down the volume on those messages, whether they are own internal voices, or external, because, bottom-line, in order to make any kind of difference, there’s gotta be HOPE that the difference can be made in the first place. That’s what the homeless man’s smile and “OHHH!” did for me. It turned up the volume to the ‘might as well’ thoughts and ignited hope in making a little difference. Hope is a key ingredient for any change for sure.
P.P.S. There are also those who will tell us exactly when and how we should give the cold cup of water. This can be well-meaning. It can be offering wisdom. But it can lead to a lack of doing anything and cause paralysis as well. I am all for wisdom, but advice will often vary with the giver and it can lead to apathy for fear of never doing it “just right.” When this is the case, maybe we need to take that with a grain of salt. Just a thought.
P.P.P.S. Oh brother. Sorry. But just gotta share one more thing. I just got back from running a lot of errands. Last stop was the gas station. For some reason, when I tried to run my card through it said “See attendant”. So I went in and immediately there was a man following very closely behind me who told me I was beautiful, asked if I was married, etc. (No taking this as a compliment -it was obvious that he was intoxicated.) He started asking a lot of questions. He knew I was a teacher, and although I don’t know him, I recognized him as a parent from school. He was pretty aggressive with his words. Of course, it was taking a long time for my card to work. I didn’t feel threatened, but was feeling uncomfortable. When the card finally worked and I walked out to pump gas, a man was waiting outside the door. He smiled and said, “I just wanted to make sure that you made it out okay.” I said thank you. Probably looked awkward and then went to pump my gas. He pulled around as I was pumping gas and said, “I don’t usually get involved, but I was really uncomfortable with how he was talking to you.” I thanked him and thought, he probably went through the same little battle of the will that I had gone through with the homeless man. He listened to his gut and probably heard the same, “don’t get involved” thoughts that can easily prevail. But because he did get involved, I felt encouraged a bit safer. I really did. I don’t think anything would’ve happened, but it felt so good to feel that someone was watching out for things at that moment. At that moment, a need was met. I guess I didn’t realize how uncomfortable I was feeling until I felt the relief wash over me, and that was only because the man was willing to step up when he saw a need. Collectively, we have so many needs. And yet, collectively, we have so many ways to help meet those needs.
I’ll probably have a lot more p.p.p.p.s- es through the day, but will leave it at that. This is not comprehensive by any means…just a few thoughts on big problems, little solutions and the hope that bridges the gap between the two. Here’s to choosing hope.
“For I know the things I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give you a future and a hope.”
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”