Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trying To Be "The Change"

As the results of the recent presidential election were coming in on the night of November 6, my husband offered his observations along the way: "Well, it looks like it's over", or "The American people have spoken", or "We are now in the minority". I kept about-facing towards him, wagging my finger in his direction, and responding with things like "Don't you dare give up!", and "Just wait, I KNOW the tide is going to turn at any moment!" I even went to bed with the foolish notion that somehow, some way, things would be different when I woke up on November 7.

Well, they weren't, and it caused me to do several days of soul-searching. As I tried to make sense of my country and my place in it, I posted this on my Facebook:

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Today I'm thinking that it really comes down to these powerful words of Gandhi. I only have control over myself, my choices, and how I will respond in each situation I am placed in. I want to be a builder, not a murmurer, and one who is always looking for ways to make a positive difference in my home, my community, and my country. THIS I can control, THIS I can do."

It made me feel better to put into words what I was feeling, to define how I would move forward in my little corner of the world, and then to post it "out there in Facebookland" for all to see. It committed me. It also helped me to realize that even in the midst of uncertainty, personal disappointment, and living in a country where my views were now not among the most popular, I could and should strive to be a "builder", and not a "murmurer".

At about this time, I had two experiences that further refined my perspective:

Experience #1: My daughter and I had just come down the offramp of the highway and were waiting to turn left at the signal to head toward home. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman in a parka with a hood lined with fur, one hand holding onto her small daughter and the other hand holding a cardboard sign. I strained to see what was written on her sign, but couldn't make out the words. At that moment, pure inspiration descended on my heart: "Here is a chance to practice what you preach."

As I quickly fumbled around in my purse for my wallet, my daughter said (most likely echoing what she's heard from me), "You're not going to give her money are you? How can you know where it will go?" My fingers found a five-dollar bill, I pushed it toward my daughter and said, "Here, hand this to the woman." She dutifully rolled down her window, the woman approached our car (leaving her tiny girl on the median by herself), took the money, smiled a little smile, and our eyes connected. I will never forget those eyes. They were desperate and scared.

As she turned back toward her daughter, a car driven by a young woman pulled up on the other side of her. The window rolled down, the woman's face emerged, and she yelled, "Why don't you take some G**d*** responsibility for yourself?! Get a f****** job!!"

I was instantly sick to my stomach at the spewing of such venom. I felt like someone had punched me full-force in the gut. That driver personified pure hatred.

My thoughts driving home: Why would any mother and her tiny daughter be out in the cold begging for money if there was not a real reason to do so? Surely they wouldn't choose to spend the afternoon doing this! Who am I to judge their motives? How can I in good faith turn away and refuse to help?

To be very truthful, though, the sentiment fired from the young woman's twisted, hateful mouth was something I have felt before too, minus the expletives.

In that moment, I made a personal commitment to myself and to my daughter. I decided that when my path crosses with the path of another in need, I will do everything in my power to help. No second-guessing, no wondering if the dollars that pass between us will go straight to a drug dealer, no judging. The words "There but for the grace of God go I" resonated in my mind for the rest of the day.

Experience #2: My friends Julie and Mandy and I were heading home from the Seattle Temple recently, and I had to stop for gas. As I was filling my tank, a dilapidated car coasted up to the pump behind me. I glanced over, and the driver's door opened.

A large, black woman stuck her head out and to me said, "Miss? Excuse me, Miss?" I walked over to her and could see a row of loose change balancing on her sizeable tummy. "Yes?", I said. "Would you have some extra change? I am out of money and have no gas to get home." Our eyes locked, and again within those eyes I could see someone in real need. "Just a second," I said, and hurried back to my car.

"Okay you guys," I said to Julie and Mandy, and explained what just happened, adding, "Do you have any dollars? I think she really does need help." My Christlike friends jumped into their wallets and pulled out several bills, I added a few that I had, and together we came up with $15. I returned to the woman who was still trying to count her change, and handed her the money.

"Oh, that's too much! I don't need that much!", she cried. "Please take it," I said. "We want you to have it, and we hope it will get you where you need to go." The woman looked me in the eye (hers were a lovely shade of blue), and said, "Oh, bless you. I don't know if you're a God-fearing woman, but I pray for blessings upon you."

With tears in both our eyes, we smiled -- really smiled -- at each other. A quiet voice whispered to me, "This woman is your sister."

I feel like I finally understand the words of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon:

"And also, ye youselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just --

"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?" (Mosiah 4: 16-19)

I am a big proponent of "fewer government programs", "teaching a man to fish", "cutting entitlements and hence, taxes", etc. etc. etc. But the fact is, there are so very many poor and needy among us who need help. What is the best way to solve these problems? I still maintain that long-term handouts from the government are absolutely counter-productive, and that each of us needs to take responsibility to work hard and provide for our own. I do not want to be forced by the government to contribute to the welfare state. BUT as a citizen, a neighbor, and yes, a sister of everyone everywhere, I also have a sacred responsibility to CHOOSE TO HELP where and when I can within my sphere of influence and with my limited resources. I cannot solve the country's economic problems, but I CAN help the woman at the intersection, or at the gas station, or at the end of my cul-de-sac.

What if a real movement started where every American made it a priority to help where and when they could, looking at opportunities as privileges to practice loving as the Savior loves them? What if "How can I help you?" replaced "What's in it for me?" What a revolution that would be. Idealistic? Maybe. Probably. But I'm still joining up.

Here are a few of my personal beginning ideas:

*I will try to always carry a few extra dollars in my wallet. When paying by debit card at the store, I can occasionally get $20 cash back, but ask for it in fives, and put it in a special place in my wallet to be used to help others who cross my path.

*I will pray daily to be able to see the needs of others.

*I will listen more closely to those I associate with. Instead of the trite, totally useless, obligatory "Let me know if I can do anything to help", I will listen for clues or signals to what is needed, and then act immediately.

*I will try to see these opportunities to serve as blessings and as ways to become more like the Savior, and will be thankful for them.

*I will teach my daughter more by example than by hollow words, and will include her as often as possible in my efforts.

Can the efforts of ONE PERSON really make a difference amongst all the suffering? Can ONE PERSON change the world?

I think it's like the story of the man walking along the coastline amongst dozens of beached starfish. Every few steps he bends down, picks up a starfish, and tosses it back into the ocean. His companion asks, "Do you really think you are making a difference?", to which the man, bending down again, picking up another starfish, and throwing it into the waves says, "Well, I made a difference to THAT one."