“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
– Booker T. Washington
My family and I recently volunteered at a local soup kitchen and before we started our shift, the homeless center’s Director took all the volunteers aside to give us some advice.
He told us the greatest act that we could do for these individuals as we were serving them was to look them in the eyes and talk to them like you would anybody else. More than anything, they just wanted to be treated with dignity and with respect and not like charity cases.
The director said something else that day that stuck with me. He said, “You wouldn’t know it, but among the faces you’ll see today will be faces of former CEOs, teachers, models, people with loving families and the list goes on. For one reason or another they ended up on the streets.”
This struck me because I realized that anybody could end up on the streets – not just the ones that ended up there because of drugs, mental illness or PTSD. It reminded me of a recent story on CNN of a former Yale graduate now living on the streets of Los Angeles.
A valedictorian in high school in San Antonio, Shawn Pleasants got into Harvard, but chose Yale instead – majoring in economics. He worked on Wall Street before opening his own business in Los Angeles, Silver Lake Productions, a film making company.
Amid conflicts with his partners at Silver Lake Productions, the income dried up and then his mother died. She was his rock. The problems just snowballed from there – culminating to the point where Pleasants finds himself today – homeless and living on the streets of Los Angeles. Pleasants had this to say when interviewed by CNN, “It can happen to anybody. And I’ve seen it happen. It can happen to anybody. It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s a problem we all could face.”
Homelessness can happen to anybody and every night since volunteering at the soup kitchen, I have thanked my lucky stars that my family doesn’t live on the streets. It wasn’t our family’s intention to volunteer at the soup kitchen to see others suffering to feel good about our own lives. We truly did want to serve and to give back with no expectation of getting anything in return.
Don’t get me wrong. We all walked away with a sense of extreme gratitude, but the whole experience had another profound effect. The thankfulness for all the family, spiritual and material blessings that we enjoyed made us want to make the lives of others better – to lift them to perhaps give them a fraction of what we as a family were blessed with. We wanted to share what we enjoyed in abundance for the good of others.
This Thanksgiving will be like none other in our nation’s history. With the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic chaos brought on by nationwide lock downs and restrictions on social gatherings, I imagine many individuals will be suffering this Thanksgiving more than ever before – financially and emotionally. The suffering is real.
Residents of a nursing home in Colorado were recently spotted outside holding signs that read, “Rather die from COVID than loneliness.”
“They want to be able to hug their grandchildren, they want to be able to hold the hands of their loved ones,” said Ben Gonzales, an assistant administrator at the nursing home. That is gut wrenching to see – people in their twilight years deprived of human contact with their loved ones. But their case is not isolated.
The numbers of those suffering emotionally and financially from the effects of COVID are staggering. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to be with our loved ones and not have to worry about our next paychecks, the natural progression from gratitude would be to give – both of our time and resources.
Take the time to treat those who are suffering emotionally like human beings and with dignity. Sometimes just knowing another person cares enough about them to ask them about their lives can lift their spirits in ways you can’t imagine.
In ways big and small this Thanksgiving, let’s see how we can lift others this Thanksgiving – whether supporting local businesses, volunteering, donating a reliable computer to a needy family with school children, tipping extra when eating out and so on.
I’m sure you can all think of a lot more creative and impactful ways to help your communities than I can. The key is translating those thoughts into actions.
Be grateful then go forward and give back. Happy Thanksgiving!