As another holiday season approaches, I am reminded of last year. After spending about six hours in the kitchen with my lovely wife, patting my stomach and realizing that once again I’d eaten a little more than was comfortable, I thought to myself just how blessed most of us are. I happened to mention to my wife a thought that had just come across my mind: that love is the great equalizer. I’ve met so many people who are much less fortunate than I, yet most of them are happy. Their contentment rests in the love they share with another. If you give this a little thought, then you realize just how important your dear ones are.
One of my fondest Christmas memories happened many years ago when I was co-hosting a radio show with Jim Kirkwood called “The Good News Hour.” We decided to do something extra special one year, so we worked up a volunteer army of helpers from our listeners to feed the largest homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. I called upon merchants such as Sears to donate stockings, gloves, hats and the like so that we could give every indigent a gift. I spoke to local grocers, and they donated turkeys, stuffing, pies and other food for the dinner. Our radio fans did the cooking; and as an extra, I decided to ask my friend Duane Sutherland, who was chief of police for South Jordan, Utah, for his help. Duane spoke with his staff, and as a result, most of them volunteered to come serve the meals, refill the drinks and pass out the gifts.
On the evening of our Christmas meal, the press showed up to film the event (“news at 10” stuff). There were some 100 hungry, cold, homeless and nearly the entire South Jordan police department in uniform (no guns). It was a special kind of bonding experience for everyone. The facility didn’t have enough tables to seat everyone, so many just sat on the floor. Officers passed among them, refreshing their drinks, bringing gifts and serving second helpings.
At one point, about an hour in, one great big lumberjack sort of fellow stood up. He asked to speak, and of course I said yes. In a broken voice, he told of how he’d hated police because he seemed to always be at odds with them, yet here they were serving him as though he were important. The tears began to flow, and he sobbed out the rest of his statement. He could no longer hate cops, and he was so very sorry for ever doing so.
You had to be there to fully understand the impact of the moment. The silence from the crowd while this big man spoke was incredible, and then the chorus of “yeahs!” that followed was almost in perfect harmony. More than one of us was moved enough that we had to turn our heads long enough to dry our eyes before looking at each other. It was a precious time that I’ll never forget, and neither will the men who were there.
It shouldn’t take a holiday for us to remember to be grateful or a new year to inspire resolutions. I resolve right now — and I do this every morning — to turn up my efforts at helping others. I want many more of the warm, fuzzy moments that come when I know my life has made a difference to someone.
I invite you to take the challenge and turn up your efforts as well. I believe that the world improves one person at a time, but collectively we posses a power that’s much more than the sum of its parts. I believe that paramount to character is an identity that incorporates our fellow human beings as an extension of ourselves. As the poet John Donne put it, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; for it tolls for thee.” The misfortunes of others today not only could be your lot tomorrow; but in an interconnected sense, they’re losses to you now.
I believe in helping others help themselves, and I know that in doing so, we improve our own lives as well. Both the real mission and mystery in life is revealed through service as I have pointed out in my book, “What Does That Mean?” If you’ve ever felt lonely, separated from the rest or cut off from the herd, so to speak, then volunteer at a homeless center, hospice, mentoring program or… I could go on and on for there are many places that need you. In giving of yourself, you’ll find that you’re never again alone. As Martin Luther King, Jr., so aptly put it:
Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions