“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.” ~Hausa Proverb
Gratitude, the level of gratitude that one has, varies greatly by person. You have those that are grateful for every single thing in their lives, and those that know what the word means on paper yet never practice it in their own lives.
Then you have so many others (like myself), I call them the “in-betweeners.” We are grateful for so much but often forget this because life takes over, or so many other things are going on at once that you barely have five minutes to yourself to even drink a glass of water, let alone practice gratitude.
And so you continue on in your day and life with thoughts and good intentions to give back more to those who are unfortunate or volunteer more—and then it doesn’t happen.
I can vouch for this; I did this all the time. I meant well and really did want to help others, yet life takes over.
As I ate my lunch at my desk, mindlessly reading a celebrity gossip blog, I came across something in passing. This one blogger in particular was rallying all of her followers to support her for an event she was taking part in that would help support homeless youth.
As I read further, I came to see that this event was a sleep out, where she would sleep on the street and experience homelessness firsthand. I’m not sure why exactly, but I promised that if that event ever came to New York City I would do the same—and it did.
With a day of hesitation that was filled with thoughts of me leaving my children overnight and questioning if I really wanted to do this, I signed up—fast, before I could change my mind.
And so there I was, rallying my family, friends, and coworkers to help me reach the $1,000 minimum in two short weeks. I never realized how many people would actually support me; I exceeded the minimum by $200.
Fast forward to the night of the event: I had two sick children at home and felt guilty for leaving them, but still, I walked into this event on my own without knowing a soul there.
The organization had a schedule for the evening prior to the sleep out, when we got to meet some of the kids that we were helping that night. I met some of the most amazing kids that I have ever encountered.
These people have endured and survived so much. Listening to their stories and having them sit directly across from me was life changing. I now had a face to associate with homeless youth and, in some instances, their homeless children.
I heard stories of sleeping near a hospital for fear of giving birth on the streets, finding their own mother dead at the age of 16, and leaving adoptive parents that abused them and suffering a stroke at the age of 18, due to stress.
The life experiences of these kids cannot compare to so many of us, and yet I felt so connected and privileged to be able to help them in any way.
After our meetings, we retreated to the sidewalk that we would be sleeping on, which emulated what so many face nightly. We got our cardboard boxes, sleeping bag, and trash bag for insulation and laid down to sleep.
And that is when it happened—my “aha” moment. As I laid there among strangers who were all doing this for the same cause, it hit me: I am more than fortunate! I have healthy children, a loving husband, a warm bed that is ours, a refrigerator that, thankfully, is filled with food, a home—the list goes on and on.
These are things that I have almost have come to expect, yet they are not owed to any of us.
My entire perspective changed. How dare I complain about not having those shoes I saw at some store or that the grocery store didn’t have the one item I needed or whatever thing it is that annoyed me and wasted my time.
I see things differently, because from this experience I am different now. I am more mindfully grateful for everything, and in turn I have seen the beauty in so much that I have missed before.
I am a new person on the inside. I am grateful and more determined to make the time I am given much more meaningful. Now that I know better, I need to do better.
This event was just the start for me. I am actively looking for new and inventive ways to give back.
Look around and be grateful for the smallest things. Once you become more mindful of it, your world starts to change.
Photo by Hartwig HKD