Of Hunger and Heat Waves: Why Our Current ‘Reverse Heat Stroke’ May be Crippling More Than Just Our Tans
I was teaching in one of the universities while the country was suffering from a severe famine. People were dying of hunger, and I felt very helpless. As an economist, I had no tool in my tool box to fix that kind of situation. – Muhammad Yunus
The sun is out. It is a ridiculously beautiful day. My kids are wearing short sleeves and getting ready to play in the yard. It’s wonderful, a welcome change from the summer-substituted overcast cold, which has the Wet Coast running for their fall sweaters and bellyaching about every aspect of our rain-torn lives.
Oh, no, I’m not ragging on anyone else. I’m one of the guilty.
But the concept of emotional belly-aching in the face of another country’s literal belly-aching, the complaint of too much water when so many would beg for water, jarred me out of my self-centered negativity.
And it reminded me of a time where not eating, or at least not being sure where provision would come from, was a remote possibility for me.
My husband and I were first married, he in graduate school and I finishing a nursing degree. We were living with my parents. My dad was dying of pancreatic cancer. David was in the country on a student visa. His application for permanent residency was in process, but he was not allowed to work in Canada. And one Saturday, he came home from his job selling computers in Bellingham early.
His face said it all; he’d been let go.
The Bellingham economy was bad. He was the newest employee. It made the most sense to let him go. But seeing as that was our only income, it was a bit panic-inducing for us.
Especially since no one else in Bellingham – the closest American city to us – was hiring.
The next Sunday, hearing a representative from a charity speak about the need in a European country – I don’t remember which one, to be honest – I felt moved to give to the cause. It made no sense. After all, we weren’t sure how we were going to pay for car insurance on Monday. But something told me, I might feel like I had nothing to give, but I needed to give anyways.
When I came home, David told me he’d felt prompted to give as well.
And in a moment of, I’m sorry, you did what? we realized that we’d both given what was likely the last cash in our wallets, at least for awhile.
Huh. Yeah, we weren’t the best communicators back then.
But, there was nothing left to do, but hope – and pray, if that’s something that you believe in – that something would look ‘up’ the next day. I’m not an optimist, but fortunately, I’m married to one.
The next morning one of my professors approached me outside of class and said something had been left for me on her desk that morning. She handed me an envelope with my name on it. I didn’t recognize the writing. But when I opened it, I found a card that still sits on our nightstand. I probably should frame it.
Inside were the words, ‘we hope this is the beginning of many miracles for you.’
There was also the exact amount of money we needed to pay for the car insurance due that day.
I still remember the tears stinging my eyes; I remember the brown and grey plaid of that hallway’s carpet as I sank to the floor, thinking, but I didn’t tell anyone about the insurance. No one knew what we needed. I remember calling David, flabbergasted that, just like he’d told me the day before, it was going to be okay.
And I remembered him saying, yeah, I got a cheque in the mail today for some side work I’d done awhile ago.
Um, what? There was more?
But that wasn’t all.
The next day, we surprisingly received some belated birthday money from a distant relative.
The day after, David found a part of the Canadian Immigration document that stated he could apply for a temporary work visa, since the Bellingham economy was poor and his Canadian wife was considered a ‘destitute student.’
The next day, he found a border guard wiling to sign that temporary visa.
Two days later, he had a job.
When we looked back at that week, we had given $40 to that charity. We’d received over $500 back, plus a steady source of income.
Not really that bad of an investment.
I know this story is a bit of an extreme one, but we remember it vividly, because it prompts us to action now, even when we don’t feel like acting. There’s so many times where we feel like, ‘we don’t have money to give,’ when in reality, we do.
So many Canadians are citing reasons why we shouldn’t give to the Somalia relief efforts, and they are valid concerns; things like high administrative organization costs, the compounding effects of our own debt, the reality that closer, richer countries than ours should be helping their neighbours and aren’t. I totally understand those reasons. I’m not here to dispute them. Nor am I here to guilt you into giving to something you don’t want to or feel prompted to.
However, I am here to provide another reason for generosity; a reason that many of us ignore, but whose powerful results are in our control, whether all those reasons not to give are true, or not.
Many times we don’t give to something because we think we don’t have enough ourselves. And for many of us, that’s true. But that retreating into ourselves, the same thing we do emotionally and socially when we feel down or depressed, what some call a ‘spirit of poverty,’ actually perpetuates the problem. When we’re always concerned about us, things just seem to get worse. But when, in the sharpest ‘bends in our roads,’ we are able to gain enough perspective to see that others are suffering to the same extent, or perhaps more, than we are, release comes. Emotionally, socially, and even financially, things seem to get better.
I’m not sure what it is; perhaps grace, or gratefulness, or an overall pleasantness that makes us realize we don’t have to do this alone and it really will be all okay.
Giving to someone else, either with our time, or money, or whatever you feel called to give, releases a powerful gift to us. And sometimes, that gift is tangible, like what David and I experienced nearly ten years ago. What happened then is a miracle, not just because our provision came at just the right time, but because it changed us from being self-centered worry-warts (okay, that was more me than him), to others-centered and, at least most of the time, hopeful.
We give now, not just for the return it gives to us, but because we want other people to experience this amazing freedom that comes with the spirit of generosity, whether we are on the giving or receiving end.
So, while there may be a zillion very good reasons not to give to Somalia, or anything else, I offer this little story as a suggestion, that maybe, there is something you can give, somewhere. I don’t care where it is or how much. But if we were willing to try an experiment, for even the amount of a coffee, or less, I don’t care, we might see some powerful results. If we were to give with a sense of gratefulness, with the recognition that, despite all the reasons Somalia themselves may be responsible for their famine, we get to live in a place with so much water we complain, in a country who allows us to vote and have control over much of our lives, in a culture where health care is a basic right of all citizens, and where we, hopefully, are concerned about the welfare of others, I venture to say the return would be exponential.
Try it. If it stinks, well, you’re only out two bucks. And, if you think I’m crazy, well, you’re probably right. But if there’s anything here that you might remotely relate to, don’t give in to the fear. There are seasons where all we are capable of doing is focusing on our own needs, and if that’s you, I totally understand and bless you to take care of yourself and your family. But if you’re holding back only because you think it might be a mistake, I promise, it won’t. Just find what cause is yours, and give. You won’t regret it.
And if that’s not your thing, I get it. But I’ll tell you what would be cool if it was all of our things: to list ten things we’re thankful for every day. I’ll start you off: there is food in our fridge, I can walk down the street to get more if I need, there’s a roof over our heads to shield us from the rain that makes everything green, we have more than enough clothes in our closets, my kids are well-fed and healthy, and able to participate in things they love, like piano and sports, we have more than enough electricity and power, clean air to breathe, we know we can go play outside without fear of war or constant violence, we can go to the doctor if we need to (even if its just a walk-in clinic), We have a zillion un-read books that we can’t wait to get to, and, we have friends to complain to if things get bad.
Okay, your turn. And if at the end of all of that you’ve changed your minds about giving, here’s a list of a few groups who are working to help famine victims. If not, then at least you’re smiling, right? Bend in the road, or not.
And, who knows? Those smiles themselves might just change the world, all on their own.