Tag Archives: Charity

Please Help Me Build Something

bald eagle

(Image/Christopher Martin)

NOTE: I try hard to not ask you for things.

That’s not how I want this relationship to work.

But today, I must.

Because someone who matters to me asked for my help. And only you can make it possible.

You can skip the storytelling and contribute to something deserving and meaningful.

Or you can learn why I care. Because context matters.

We’d haul buckets full of water and live fish to the barn where my grandfather had built a fish-cleaning station.

There, I’d watch him club the heads of fish to kill them before I’d help him descale and filet them. Later, we’d have a fish fry.

The meals were delicious. The process was routine if I was fishing with grandpa. I didn’t think or feel much about it at all. It was just the way we did things.

My third-grade son and I recently started fishing together. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I asked him the question: “When we catch fish, do you want to keep and eat them, or release them back into the lake?”

He insta-answered: “I want to put them back.”

I was glad. Because I didn’t want to club fish heads.

I don’t judge people who fish for food. And I promise I’ll fish for food any time a food shortage or survival situation calls for it. But so long as I have access to a nice seafood counter at my local market, I’m cool with not intentionally killing fish myself.

I didn’t think about things like that when I was in third grade.

But my little boy does.

Years ago, so did another boy growing up in Minnesota. When he was in third grade, a representative of a raptor (birds of prey, not dinosaurs!) educational outreach program visited his school.

The speaker invited the boy to approach the live eagle perched on their arm.

It was Scott’s first close encounter with a raptor.

And it changed him forever.

The Subtle Art of Achieving Balance

One of my dearest childhood friends went through divorce about a year after me.

My divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Her divorce was maybe the fourth- or fifth-worst thing to happen to her, because she has survived Life Things that destroy people, leaving most of us in perpetual states of identity crisis and disrepair.

When we take enough damage, breathing and moving ceases to mean we’re alive.

My friend knew she wasn’t really alive anymore. Sometimes, we just break.

I’ve been broken.

In her search for balance, she enrolled in a program designed to help people achieve the kind of Mind, Body and Spirit balance that allows humans to thrive.

The process has been transformative.

I see and hear the changes in the things she writes and says.

The final step in her journey was to team with others as part of her leadership training to create something meaningful by enlisting the help of at least 100 people.

She joined 16 others to form the team who would choose Children and Environment as focal points for their final project.

Scott, the third grader from Minnesota who turned his eagle encounter into a lifelong passion for learning about and protecting birds of prey into his adulthood, just happened to be part of her team.

It Means: ‘To Seize’

The word Raptor—that is the classification of large birds of prey which includes eagles, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, etc.—is derived from the Latin word Rapere, which means “to seize” or “to take by force.”

I see my friend taking her life back. Seizing moments. It’s a big deal.

And in Charlotte, N.C., she serendipitously met 16 like-minded souls willing to unite and work for something that mattered.

They’re going to build—with their hands—a large outdoor playground on the grounds of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., just north of Charlotte.

Something lasting. Something for children. Something that serves the big-picture mission of ecological balance most of us rarely pause to think about. (Here’s an entry-level primer on how raptors help balance ecosystems.)

They are raising money to pay for the raw materials, hardware, and tools needed to complete the project.

Maybe you care about raptor conservation. Maybe you care about children. Maybe you’d like to do me a personal favor.

Maybe you just like helping people. I hope so.

I didn’t need a reason other than someone who was fundamental to my character development, who has always been there for me, and who I have NEVER seen on the wrong side of a kindness argument say: “Can I please ask you for a favor?”

I should have known it wouldn’t be about her.

Help My Friend, Children, and Life Flourish

Please show others what’s possible by making the Carolina Raptor Center Playground a reality. No amount is too small.

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Yes, I Believe in Miracles

This famous young man is 8 now. He's trying to save his dad. (Image by Laney Griner)

This famous young man is 8 now. He’s trying to save his dad. (Image by Laney Griner)

You can show me beheading videos and tell me the world is going to hell.

You can tell me about sex scandals and Wall Street greed and random acts of senseless violence, and throw up your hands.

I know. There’s a lot of bad out there.

But, just for a moment, please look at this other thing.

Because it’s a miracle.

In 2015, we can save people’s lives. You and me. With a keyboard.

Famous internet meme “Success Kid” was just 11 months old when his mother snapped that perfect photo of him—an image now associated with wins of all shapes, sizes and colors.

I like this one.

I like this one.

Success Kid is actually Sammy Griner. He’s 8 now.

And his dad is probably going to die from failing kidneys unless he finds a compatible kidney donor and the Jacksonville, Fla.-based family can raise enough money to pay for the expensive treatment after the surgery.

At first, Sammy’s mother Laney didn’t want to use her son as a means of raising money for Justin Griner’s cause. She wanted the focus to be on Justin. But then she considered the power of the internet, and the reach that one random photo of her son had already achieved.

Maybe it could help, she thought.

First, The Daily Dot picked up the story. Then BuzzFeed, where I saw it. The Griners launched a GoFundMe campaign with a $75,000 goal. (The drugs needed to make a body and a strange kidney work together are very expensive.)

When I first read about it 24 hours ago, the family had raised close to $20,000 of their $75,000 goal.

By the time I went to bed last night, they had nearly $70,000. Now, they have more than $83,000. And the number is climbing.

Every minute or two, someone new is offering $5 or $10 or $20 or $100.

Another stranger who wants that 8-year-old boy to keep his father for as long as possible.

It’s because people—no matter how many bad things we do and how selfish we behave—are inherently good.

The Eve of Destruction

I hear a lot of people complaining about modern times.

It’s because we used to know all of our neighbors and hang out together on front porches. There was a greater sense of community.

It’s because when you saw groups of friends out in public together they were always talking and laughing and playing, and now we see people with their eyes glued to their phones Snapchatting or tweeting or updating Facebook.

It’s because we get annoyed with all the vanity and the internet bullying and the way web stories about Kim Kardashian get infinitely more people reading them than the top story in The New York Times.

I sometimes long for the good ol’ days, too. It’s nostalgia and we all have bouts with it and wish we could go back in time in Uncle Rico’s time machine.

It’s why so many of us go through mid-life crises. Our minds want desperately to experience the good we remember from our past, or to have the chance to right some wrongs, or to take advantage of missed opportunities.

But there’s no such thing as time travel. There’s only right now.

There’s too much sex and violence on TV!

Music ain’t what it used to be!

All the kids are doing drugs and having sex!

EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE, and it’s because of progress and technology! Because everyone wants everything bigger, better, faster and stronger even though everything was already fine just as it was!

I’d like to offer an alternative theory.

As With Every Single Thing in Life, Change Brings Some Bad—But a Lot of Good, Too

In almost every instance in life, when we make a decision or major change, we are sacrificing some good thing in exchange for some other, newer good thing that hopefully we feel was worth it in the end.

When we make a change, something usually gets worse.

Everything is a trade-off.

Everyone has these phones now. So we’re distracted. We’re not present with our friends and family sometimes because we’re addicted to responding to texts and answering email and liking something in our newsfeeds.

And, sure. That made life a little worse.

But in return, we got the ability to capture photos and video of moments with those same friends and family. Of dirty cops shooting unarmed civilians and bringing them to justice. Of allowing people all over the globe to communicate—and even see one another!—in real time.

Justin and Sammy Griner. (Image by Laney Griner)

Justin and Sammy Griner. (Image by Laney Griner)

Maybe you’re not a sucker for a good father-son story like me.

It’s probably because I’m emotionally hardwired to be moved by them since I didn’t see my father very much growing up, and since I’m now living out a new father-son story with my little boy, not all that much younger than Sammy Griner.

Yesterday, I witnessed one of the world’s greatest examples of just how good and beautiful life really is.

We can lament the death of old-school journalism. Of community. Of romantic notions of yesteryear.

But in 2015, we can raise $80,000 in a day to save a man’s life because we fell in love with a photo of his son.

And just maybe, that dad gets many more years because of it.

Just maybe, a wife and mother is rewarded for the love she chooses each day.

Just maybe, Success Kid gets more time with his father.

Don’t tell me the world has gone to hell.

Don’t tell me life isn’t beautiful.

Don’t tell me that’s impossible.

Don’t tell me it’s pointless to feel hope.

Don’t tell me there are no such things as miracles.

Because I just saw one.

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The Unsung Heroes

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:

I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

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Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

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How I Could Just Kill a Man

We can be so cruel to one another. When we are kind, who do we choose? And why?

We can be so cruel to one another. Why are we kind to some people and not others? What’s the difference? (Image/Wallpapercave.com)

I could kill a person trying to harm my son.

I could kill a person trying to harm others I love or in self-defense.

I could kill a person trying to harm other innocent people if in the moment it was clear the act would save lives.

I may not have the physical tools or weapons to get the job done on a case-by-case basis. But I could muster the nerve. If the stakes were that high. I’m sure of it.

But what if the person causing harm was my father? Or my sister? Or my childhood best friend?

How long might I hesitate if this hypothetical person I’m so certain I could kill was someone who resides permanently on my “People I Don’t Want to Kill” list?

Who matters?

Who doesn’t?

Where do I draw that line?

Of all the things I never want to do, I think killing someone ranks No. 1. And I don’t mean murder. That should go without saying. But even a “justifiable” killing. The thought of taking a life makes me very uncomfortable.

I don’t know very many people who have killed someone. The few I do are older men who were once soldiers at war. The curiosity in me has always wanted to try to coax those stories out of them. To get a sense of the feelings those memories manifest.

But I’ve always stopped short of asking because I don’t want to ask men to relive what are likely their worst memories.

Is This the World We Want?

I’ve been asking myself the following question every day for about a week now.

What is the difference between the people who matter and the people who don’t?

Where do we draw the line? Between all of the people we care about or treat kindly or help versus those we don’t care about, treat poorly or ignore altogether?

The idea popped into my head while reading Tom Shadyac’s Life’s Operating Manual. Shadyac is something of an anti-capitalist. He and I don’t see eye-to-eye on economic theory. BUT. I do respect very much where he’s coming from when he poses the very thought-provoking question: What separates the people you are willing to profit from, from the people you simply want to help?

He argues that the mindset of capitalism—always trying to maximize profits and charge as much as possible for goods and services—makes the human experience so much uglier than it should be.

For example, he says, if someone you love very much needed help—didn’t have food or clothes or shelter—you would instantly invite them into your home, and feed them, clothe them and let them stay with you (without asking for anything in return.)

Generally speaking, I think this is true of most of us.

But then we walk around major cities, or even suburban Ohio communities like where I live, and occasionally see people asking for help.

Maybe they’re really homeless and have good hearts.

Or maybe they’re really con artists.

Or maybe they’re really drunks or addicts looking to score a fix.

No matter what the situation, I submit all of those people could use help of some kind.

Who Matters?

Everyone ranks the people in their lives relative to their specific circumstances.

But I think this is representative of the general order in which we value people.

1. Spouse/Partner/Significant other and children

2. Parents and siblings

3. Friends

4. Neighbors

5. Co-workers and acquaintances

6. Strangers who are like us (Social, spiritual, economic, cultural, geographic commonalities)

7. Strangers who are not like us

8. Known enemies

Where do you draw the line?

Where on this list do you decide: “That person means so much to me that I want to help them with their problem,” as opposed to your cut-off point? The place where you say: “Screw ‘em. I don’t care. I have enough problems. Let them figure it out for themselves,” or worse: “That person isn’t like me, so I don’t like them and I’m going to hurt them.”

This question about who matters versus who doesn’t makes me think about the post-apocalyptic world on display in The Walking Dead.

It truly is survival of the fittest and every man for himself.

Every stranger is a threat. Someone who might steal your supplies, murder you, or murder you so they can steal your supplies.

But often, after a warming-up, get-to-know-you period—after one of the strangers puts his or her life on the line in service of others—trust is formed.

Bonds are built.

And these strangers, these random people who didn’t care about each other days or weeks ago, morph from stranger to acquaintance, from acquaintance to friend, and (if you believe as I do that you don’t have to share blood to be family) from friend to family.

These people who were threats become people you will sacrifice everything for.

There are bad people in this world. Threats. People who in a lot of ways don’t deserve our kindness, generosity, charity, help, whatever.

An irresponsible or naïve Pollyanna-like view of life benefits no one.

But I don’t know how to muster the cynicism required to not believe that everyone deserves a fair shake. That every person deserves a baseline amount of respect and benefit of the doubt before we rush to judgment.

We don’t need to write a 10-page letter to their boss petitioning for their promotion, but being courteous to the customer service representative on the phone who is NOT responsible for our problem seems reasonable.

We don’t need to invite every kid in school to our birthday party, but smiling at them, not engaging in bullying and treating people kindly doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

We don’t need to give our weekly paycheck to the guy panhandling outside the grocery store, but maybe a sandwich and a bottle of water would serve to nourish more than just his hunger and thirst.

We allow ourselves to disconnect and then we treat people like enemies.

People who, if we were stuck in a survival situation with, might become our family.

I know a little boy who—just seven years ago—wasn’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination.

And today I love him above all else and would do the unthinkable to keep him safe.

And I want him to live in a world where we don’t scream at each other and bully people on social media and hate one another because our skin color isn’t the same or because we care about different things.

Maybe we can be one little ripple in the pond. One kind act at a time.

And maybe those acts can cause more ripples because others agree that these arbitrary barriers we put up between us and other people seems like a silly reason to completely change the way we treat one another.

And maybe good spreads.

And then maybe there are fewer 12-year-old kids in Catholic school cafeterias celebrating the release of a Cypress Hill rap song called “How I Could Just Kill a Man.”

Even if those kids do grow up wanting to be part of the solution.

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