Never forget

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)Yesterday I left my family’s Thanksgiving festivities feeling full, not only of food, but also–and especially–of love and warmth and goodwill. Compared to most of the world, I have a lot. My modest house might need a good cleaning, but it keeps me safe from the elements and has more than enough room for my kids, my dog and me. I live on a budget like everyone else, but my family has never lacked food or clothing or health care. I’ve gotten to see much of the world, Most importantly, I have a big, quirky, loving family with open hearts.

All those things were in my psyche, if not my consciousness, yesterday when I saw a woman standing on a corner not two blocks from the feast I had just left, tapping her wrist questioningly in the universal symbol of “What time is it?” I slowed to a stop, rolled down the passenger window, and leaned across my daughter to tell the woman it was close to 5pm.

She needed a ride to the next bus stop, she said. She wanted to take the city bus downtown to the Greyhound station, where she would catch a ride to Wisconsin and her grandmother’s funeral. She was sad and she needed help.

As my so-called street smarts kicked in and an invisible voice told me “Drive away, Tammy, this is a bad idea,” I heard myself telling my son to make room for the woman in the back seat. I’ll spare you the details, but the ride to the bus stop turned into tears and a donation of $40 for the ticket. By the time I let the woman out of the car to make her way to Greyhound, I felt more than a little uneasy and wondered if I had been the one who had just been taken for a ride. I’m doubtful that the woman actually took that bus trip.

I had helped someone in need, but I felt bad. It bothered me all night long and into today, until I recounted the scenario to my brother.

My big-hearted bro had no words for me but my own. He reminded me that over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve taken offense to the knee jerk reaction of many to recent acts of terrorism, I’ve staunchly supported continuing to help Syrian refugees. All refugees, really. I rarely get into political discussions, but this one is more human than political to me. My deep-seated belief is this:

We can’t sacrifice our humanity for the sake of our existence.

We have to keep helping people, even when there may be danger involved, simply because it is the right thing to do. It sickens me when others use a cry of Never forget! in response to acts of violence or terrorism, not to make the world a better place, but to justify their own prejudices.

And yet I still felt silly for having tried to help that woman. I wondered if I had put my children in danger, if she was really who she said she was, where that money was really going to be spent.

With a gentle nudge, my brother told me, “Anything we do that opens our hearts is not a wasted effort. You cannot control what happens in someone else’s heart, only that you yourself were kind. Why should you ever feel ashamed or foolish for having human empathy and caring for the suffering of others?”

Then I remembered something I had posted on my Facebook page just last week.

To the people who cite our nation’s hungry and homeless population as a reason to close our borders, please tell me what YOU’RE doing to help the people you call “ours.” If you’re just spouting statistics that you found on the internet from the comfort of your warm house with a full belly, I’m not listening.

And if you want to do something about it but don’t know how to help, contact Donnie/Kelly Foster (MISFITS), Street Reach for the Homeless, Samaritan Homeless Clinic (Dayton), or just head downtown with blankets and food.

If you really care that much, let’s do something about it.

You know what? I DID something about it. I don’t know how it turned out, but that’s not mine to judge. I walked my talk, and today I feel good about that. This year, more than anything, I’m thankful for a heart that sometimes has to guide my mind when I try to think too much, and for a brother who keeps me pointed in the right direction.

The next time you hear the words Never forget! be sure that what you’re remembering is how to be a better person and how NOT to let the actions of a few justify anger and hatred, no matter how scared you are.

Never forget that preserving our existence is not worth the sacrifice of our humanity.

Giving back

homestead girls xc 2015Remember that big trophy case in your high school? You know the one; it houses all the awards from sports and band and club competitions. It’s filled with statuettes and plaques and medals and team photos, and you always stop to look at it when you go back for a visit. Heck, my daughter’s school is big enough that it has a trophy case for each sport.

Except hers.

No matter how hard you look, you won’t find any awards on display for the girls’ cross country team, even though the team has historically been successful. Heck, this year alone they placed ninth at the state finals, piling up wins and places along the way. So where are the trophies? Where are the ribbons? Does the school hold girls’ xc in complete disdain?

Nope.

When I attended Awards Night, I saw all the hardware displayed in its shiny glory. One statuette must have been at least two feet high; it stood on the table like a beacon, luring the girls to come back for another season, another success. And that was only one of the awards. The spread on the table would have wowed anyone.

By the end of the night, it was gone.

That’s because the coaches felt that since the girls had earned them, they should keep them. They’ve made it a tradition to present each senior runner with one of the awards from the season, choosing according to some anecdote that matches each girl with a particular race.

These aren’t just the varsity runners; they’re ALL the senior runners. That includes seniors on JV who may never have earned an individual award in their high school careers. By the end of Awards Night, everyone had something to commemorate her contribution to the team.

That’s pretty selfless of the coaches, if you ask me.

After all, they’d have one impressive trophy case if they accumulated all that hardware in a single location. They could revel in their success every time they walked past. Look what we’ve accomplished! Don’t we produce great teams?! 

Instead, they tuck their successes away in their hearts and memories and give the credit to the girls who showed up every day and worked their tails off. To the girls who ran two and three and four hundred miles over the summer to stay in shape. To the girls who collapsed after crossing the finish line because they had nothing left.

Don’t get me wrong. The coaches worked their tails off, too. They poured hundreds of hours into the season–after teaching all day. They ran and biked alongside the girls. They gave up time with their families. They were the first ones there and the last ones to leave every practice and meet. They praised and prodded and encouraged, even when they were mentally exhausted. They earned those trophies, too.

That’s why giving those trophies to the girls means so much. The coaches taught the girls how to stretch, how to eat, how to race, how to persevere, but the most important thing they taught them was how to give back.

We gain so much more from giving credit than from taking it.

Thanks, Coach W and Coach B.

Take care

Aunt Gladys circa 1972When I was very small, my great-great aunt went to live with my grandmother. Aunt Gladys (unconventionally pronounced  GLAY-dus) would follow my brother and me around and we didn’t mind a bit because she never hesitated to join our games. She played with us unhesitatingly until the dark cloud of her dementia overshadowed the sunny side of her personality.

And that’s why she lived with my grandmother. Grandma was her caretaker–at least, that’s what we would have called her then. She fed Aunt Gladys and bathed her and tucked her in bed at night. Grandma kept AG safe and made sure she knew she was loved. She took care of Aunt Gladys.

Taking care. That term sounds so…detached.

It says nothing of the emotion my grandmother’s actions carried, the love and devotion that washed Aunt Gladys’s face or the tender care that removed obstacles so she wouldn’t fall. It ignores the sacrifice of unexpectedly rearranging a household to make sure a loved one won’t suffer alone in her time of need, or of stretching a threadbare budget to make room for one more.

Sounds a lot more like giving than taking to me.

Perhaps that’s why, somewhere along the way, we’ve embraced a shift in terminology. People we once called caretakers have become caregivers. Technically, both words carry the same meaning, but at least for me, the former screams duty while the latter emanates devotion.

I love how our vernacular keeps evolving to perfect itself. It amazes me how one little word–or portion of a word–makes all the difference to its meaning. And even if you give it little thought, your choice affects the perception of your listener.

Words matter; always choose wisely.