From time to time I hear people entertain the thought of starting their lives over with a clean slate. They talk about the places they would go, the things they would do, the profession and/or business they would have, the dream(s) they would pursue, etc. Mostly, they speak of hopes dashed, or dreams unfulfilled, and the accompanying regrets.
Sometimes when people are deeply entrenched in their circumstances they have a fatalistic view of life. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to think in terms of hope and possibilities. But those of us who are able and available can make a real difference in the lives of those who have lost hope, feel intimidated, or need encouragement to pursue their hearts' desires. It might be as simple as lending an ear, offering a kind word, or letting them know the types of resources available. It's a first step, a baby step. But it may provide a glimmer of hope and change a life.
Not all of us will be news makers and/or trendsetters, but life is so much richer when we use our lives--or at least a portion of our precious, limited time on this earth--to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Many, the world over, are now celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, who made a significant difference in the lives of others. In the struggle for freedom, equality, and education for all, Madiba's later years epitomized this quote from Robert Brault: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”
In two weeks, many of us--the world over--will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the ultimate difference-maker and model of forgiveness for Christians. Wishing you and yours the love, joy, hope, peace, and spirit of Christmas.
Have you seen the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? It's broadcast on television during the Christmas season, but I sometimes watch it at other times of the year as its messages resound throughout. In the movie, the life of the protagonist, George Bailey, is challenging--to say the least. As a young man, George dreamed of college and traveling the world. Those dreams were dashed when George's father died and George had to take over the family business. After that, George did what he could to make the best of his life--a great deal of which included helping others. And just when it seemed things were going well, something happened that shook George to his core. Having endured one setback too many, George got tired. He was at the end of his rope, and believed things would be better if he wasn't alive, or had never been born. But before he was able to act on his despair, George was sent a guardian angel who showed him the blessings he had and how his life made a significant difference in the lives of others. In the end, George saw that despite his challenges he had a life worth living, rich in love. It seemed like he was so accustomed to making sacrifices and being there for others that he didn't realize they would be there for him in his time of need.
Some of life's greatest lessons are learned in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We may be devastated or discouraged along the way, but it's important to hold on. As older people used to say when I was growing up, "just keep living . . . chances come around." Nothing good or bad lasts forever, so we must make the best of our circumstances and allow our blessings, our faith, our hope, our joy, to cushion life's harsh blows. One thing from the movie that really resonated with me was that George didn't reach out to his family and friends to say he needed help. He suffered in silence. Many of us do so, thinking no one will understand; no one will be there for us; others will criticize us; we can handle it on our own, etc. I've been there. But like George, I have learned that when we have others who will love and support us in the midst of and through our pain--and allow them to do so--we'll find that it is, indeed, a wonderful life.
What's a tire without a rim? The rim supports, holds the tire. Tires and rims are interdependent--they work together for a designated purpose. Even when a tire is flat, the rim supports it. It doesn't have the ability to inflate the tire, but it supports it nonetheless.
In life, sometimes we're the tire and, unless we are completely selfish and self-centered, sometimes we're the rim. As tires, we try to move our lives in various directions. We may start families, create businesses, get an education, have careers, set goals, live our dreams, etc. But absent the rims in our lives--those who provide support along the way--it's impossible to fully realize our potential; or manage our various responsibilities. Our rims include those who take care of our children, teachers, garbage collectors, cashiers, receptionists, secretaries, maintenance workers, co-workers, managers, employees, parents, siblings, children, godparents, friends, postal workers, delivery workers, stock crews, doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, acquaintances, strangers, etc.
My point is that very little works in isolation. In order to make our relationships, our jobs, our communities, and our world better, we must depend on each other. We are attached, connected. Sometimes we take each other for granted; or we overlook the importance of those who provide support for us, especially if they are on the periphery of our lives. We sometimes devalue them, underestimate them, or fail to see them. We can all look at our lives and recall situations where but for the help of someone (sometimes a stranger), we wouldn't have our lives, our homes, our jobs, etc. Maybe someone saved our child from getting hit by a car; made an exception for us; provided a word of encouragement; smiled when we needed kindness; made a call on our behalf; paid a bill when we couldn't see our way through; returned something valuable we thought we lost; wiped our tears; held our hands when we were afraid or could not walk alone, etc. Our rims lighten our loads, stand in the gaps, help make connections, and facilitate the business and conduct of our lives. They provide support even when we're deflated.
So it's important to recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate our rims. We're often so busy that we don't truly see or focus on the many people who touch our lives in one way or another. But most of us are still standing because of our rims. I know I am. And because I'm grateful for my rims, I intend to do a better job of letting them know I don't take them for granted. 'Cause after all, what's a tire without a rim, but empty?
***Thank you, my readers, as you, too, are my rims. You may not comment, but I know from my website statistics that there are many of you. Thank you for taking the time to stop by, and I pray you have been encouraged by the blog.
Who are you? If someone posed that question to you, how would you respond? Would your answer begin with your résumé --that is, what you do, or have done, to earn a living. If so, what about if/when you can no longer do what you do? Would you then be nobody? How often do we define ourselves by our work resumes? What about our life resumes--our legacies? On our life journeys, are we both resume builders and legacy builders? For some, the work they do for a living will ultimately be part of their legacy. Their work by its very nature will change or impact others' lives. But what about those of us whose work doesn't have such an impact on others? What will be our legacy? Are we doing anything other than what's necessary to sustain our lifestyles? Are we making a positive difference in the lives of others? Or is it all about us and ours? On the path to building our work resumes, it's worth making time to find and live our life purpose--something that serves others. Because when it's all said and done, our resumes will be discarded. Legacies live on.
Vienna, red shoes, and medicine. What could possibly be the connection? I'm glad you asked. The answer is, one small act of kindness. I was at the airport, on my way to Paris. A couple at the check-in line struck up a conversation with me. They were on their way to Vienna and Malta. I told them I always wanted to go to Vienna. They had been married there, and shared a wedding photo. I shared with them my experiences in Malta. We parted ways at the security line, but ran into each other again on the way to our gates. The husband had just converted dollars into euros, and I began to lament the low value of the dollar. I told them I had decided not to convert any money into euros until I arrived in Paris and could obtain a better rate. Immediately, he opened his wallet and offered me 20 euros. Stunned, then overwhelmed with emotion, I politely refused explaining that I was just being cheap. I told them it wasn't that I didn't have money, but that I didn't want to lose money on the conversion. The husband said they weren't concerned about any of that--to take the money. Then my pride kicked in (because I couldn't see that this wasn't about me!), and I insisted that I didn't need the money. Undeterred, the husband put the money in my hand. I finally gave in, saying that I would pay it forward. He said, "that's up to you. Just take the money." We decided to have lunch together, and then we parted ways promising to keep in touch.
As we were disembarking the plane in Paris, I admired the red shoes of a woman standing in front of me. She was going to visit her daughter and some friends. She asked how I was getting into the city. At the time, there were strikes and her daughter had sent a message saying the metro might not be running. I said I was taking a shuttle into the city. After asking if I thought the shuttle might take her without a reservation, she asked if they took credit cards because she did not have euros. In that moment, the act of the couple giving me the 20 euros hit me like a brick. Why? Because the shuttle cost 20 euros. I told the woman that if the shuttle would take her, she didn't need euros. I told her the story about the couple, and that the money hadn't been for me so I was paying it forward to her. She had the same reaction I had when the couple offered me the money. First she was stunned, and then emotionally overwhelmed. She thanked me, but refused the money and set off to find an ATM. Fortunately, she was able to catch the shuttle into the city. Through additional conversation I found out she lives where one of my friends is planning to move. She agreed to help him do some networking.
While riding the shuttle, we met a young doctor who was in Paris for a medical conference. It was her first time in the city, and she was all alone. I offered to show her a few places and made some suggestions on other things to do. At dinner, she expressed her gratitude that I would do this for a total stranger, and I told her the story of the couple at the airport. It moved her in the same way it moved me and the woman with the red shoes.
I absolutely love to give, so I understand the pleasure it must have given the couple to give me the 20 euros. Just attempting to pass on the kindness they extended to me brought me immense pleasure. And then it came right back to me. I was renting a short-term apartment during my stay in Paris. When I met with the landlord to pay the rent and security deposit, she would not accept the full security deposit. When I asked why, she said that once she met me, she just didn't want to.
I learned so much from these experiences but one of the most important things was to never underestimate the power and reach of one small act of kindness--it could connect lives, make someone's day, and/or change a life.