Thursday, November 5, 2009

There but by the grace of ...

I have been humbled. Now, I have been humbled before; by someone smarter, stronger, better looking (I know, hard to believe), wittier (again, I know, hard to believe), but this time I have been humbled by the grace and perseverance of a simple man. I tell you that this event has deeply moved me and will be a touchstone for me as I move forward through life.

I work for a company that, among other lines of business, helps low income families obtain federal, state and local grant funds to make much needed repairs to their homes. Homes even include manufactured housing. Our major clients are operators of mobile home parks. During our applicant intake today, I had the opportunity to meet "Art". Art is a very nice man, early 60's, but is illiterate. He has a CDL license and was fired from his job because he could not write his route in his log book. He could not spell the name of his delivery stop or the people he talked with. He has run out of unemployment assistance, receives some disability assistance and while his pick-up truck is paid for, he has no other assets, save for his 35 year old mobile home. He came in to get more information about the programs that may be available to him. I sat with him and helped him fill out his application. The gratitude in his eyes said it all... This man was all alone. When I say all alone, I mean ALL ALONE. His only friend right now is the beer bottle. The fact that I took just a few minutes with him was probably a more positive experience that he has had with anotherhuman being than he has had in a long time. While he was putting together information for me, the property manager came to him and handed him a 5 day notice of eviction for non-payment of lot rent. Here is a man who is looking for help and will probably lose his home if he does not come up with the $500 in rent that he needs to pay by the end of next week. He obviously cannot afford to move; it costs over $5,000 to move a mobile home. He accepted the eviction notice in stride and said he would do what he could. I saw all of this happen and I started calling local agencies who might be able to help. Every one of them that I talked to had already spent all of their assistance funds. I only had one other hope and their phone was busy so I just suggested to Art to go down to the agency and try to speak with someone. Again, the gratitude he showed for only 5 minutes of work on my end was incredible. It was not fawning gratitude; he was mildly embarrassed, but he worked with me, we made sure he understood the directions and he went on his way to the agency with a lift in his step. Did he get there? I'll know in a week or so. There is a real chance that he just went to the bar, but the gratitude he showed for me just investing time to help, again, was humbling.

Which brings me to my point... We all want people to bring themselves up by their own bootstraps, but too many people do not even have boots. As a society, we are judged by the circumstances of the least of us. I am not calling for people to contribute money; there is not enough to go around and it is too scarce these days anyway. I am asking people to contribute time and energy. Do not give people a fish, help teach them how to fish so they can eat for a lifetime. I ask you to trust me on this, the return you will get by knowing you helped someone; not by investing financially, but with something more valuable, your time, will be well worth it. It has a much higher multiplier effect than giving someone money, as well. I guess it's kind of like paying it forward. And so, I ask you to please, love one another. You will find that it's really worth it because especially in these troubling times, none of us are that far off from Art's position.

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