My father is a minister in the Assembly of God church. I donʼt have the best memory in the world, but my earliest memories were holidays when my parents would load up the car with either groceries or wrapped gifts and we would deliver them to families. Most of the families we didnʼt know but had been given their names from my dadʼs congregation. A few of the families had larger homes than what we had, or nicer cars and things.
I remember my father sometimes teary eyed as we drove out of their driveway onto the next house. I would ask him, "Dad whatʼs wrong?" "Nothing, son. Everything is wonderful," he replied. He continued to reinforce that it was okay to ask for help when you needed it. Some of the people who had bigger homes and nicer cars, usually had gifts under their trees. My dad would ﬁnd out after talking with the parents that those wrapped gifts were boxes ﬁlled with rocks or clothes already worn by the children because they didnʼt know how to tell the kids they didnʼt have any money to buy gifts.
My parents always wanted to remind me that it wasnʼt the gift that made the holiday and I should always remember why it was a holiday and celebrate that reason. As I grew older, I was always seeing people who were begging on the street. I would usually give them change that was in my pocket, I had been saving for a new toy. My older sister asked me what I was doing. I would usually reply that they needed the money more than I did. They were going to buy food to eat and survive. I was merely buying a new toy because my friends were bragging about their new toys and I wanted to be the kid who had the newest toy. "That was silly," I said.
The Meaning of Wealth
When I look back and remember the stories from my childhood, I use to think my parents exaggerated when they reminded me of the times when we went around for the holidays. I never understood that life could be that hard. After all, my parents taught me that if you worked hard enough or wanted something so much, you could be fortunate enough to get it. Whatever it was, it could be mine because I could buy or do anything! Life has been great. I have had my challenges like everyone else. Yes, when you look at my challenges they might not be huge in your eyes, and some days you are correct. I would always have to remember that perspective plays a huge part in measuring the size of the challenges in life.
Wealth is also something that can be viewed differently. I am grateful for my parents teaching me that wealth really didnʼt always mean you had lots of money. In most cases, wealth usually was determined by what was important in your life and mind. I could have more money than any other person on earth, but if I didnʼt have love or good health, I wasnʼt the wealthiest person because I would not be a happy person.
The Act of Giving Continues
The story that describes who I am and what I believe about helping others in need has to be the time when my partner and I were coming home from serving coffee at an event for parents and kids. It was cold that night and I canʼt tell you if we had eaten at all that day. I had not been receiving a paycheck for almost a year and the funds werenʼt coming in like I thought they would from donors. We had no money at all. Didnʼt even consider assistance from the county or state. I had forgotten the principle my parent tried to teach me of asking for help when in need. We had been standing outside for ﬁve hours selling coffee and hot chocolate at this event. How I was holding back when parents would put in two dimes or nothing at all because it was free coffee. The tip jar was only a tip jar. I didnʼt have the sign on it saying, "The people serving you these beverages tonight havenʼt eaten in days."
We ended the night earning enough to stop by our favorite taco truck on the way home to treat ourselves to what we considered the best tacos in Oakland. When I was waiting for the cook to give me the tacos, a woman came up to me asking me if I had any money to give her. I told her that I didnʼt have any cash on me. She was a little more persistent than the others in my past. She continued to tell me that she hadnʼt eaten in days and she was really wanting something to eat.
At that point I remembered the families we delivered food to when I was a kid. I didn't know at the time that they really needed the groceries, but I was always told their need was great and to be thankful I was able to offer something to them because they didn't have many people that were able to help them.When the cook gave me my tacos, I reached in the bag. As I turned around to walk back to the truck, it was like I was in slow motion. I saw that women smile, wave and say good-bye. I could see the hunger in her eyes and identiﬁed with her and what she was experiencing. I could appreciate the courage it took asking for food. I reached in the bag and handed her one of my tacos.
I opened the door and sat down, smiling and remembering my childhood. My partner asked me what I did. He said, "You didnʼt give her one of my tacos did you?" We were hungry and hadnʼt eaten for days. We had been standing out in the cold selling coffee to have the opportunity to have a special treat. We hadnʼt that night. I smiled at him and said, "No I gave her one of my tacos."
He shook his head and said, "Africajack, you are a great man." Even in times when I thought I was at my lowest, having little or no money to buy food or pay bills, I am always presented an opportunity to give to others in need. Perhaps that is to keep things in perspective. Times are tough, but they are tough for everyone. Knowing we were going home to sleep in a warm bed and not be outside all night in the cold, asking people for money to buy food, I said, "She needed it more than I did."