“We are all on a big boat together, and we are all a long, long way from land. I think we gotta help each other. And I think when we won’t help someone else, we are hurting ourselves.”
This quote is from my friend and neighbor Craig Morris (pictured here with his rock star wife and the band). Craig takes a bunch of us singers and songwriters across Nashville every December to sing Christmas carols at the school for the blind, the VA hospital, and homeless shelters. Just a real jerk.
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A few days ago, I was racing to an appointment. It was bitter cold and sleeting outside; I was perfectly warm inside the car with seat warmers blasting away. An old woman was on the street corner on a rough patch of highway selling the community papers cities organize and give to those who are struggling so they have something tangible to sell.
She was probably in her 50s but living outside and the weight of her sadness made her look much older. This is something many of us in bigger cities see on a daily basis.
Now I’ve heard all the ways around helping. I’ve even made up a few.
“Man, I gotta get to this meeting. I just don’t have time to stop. I’ll stop next time. Someone else will help, right?”
“Hey, I donate to BLAH, BLAH, and BLAH. I can’t stop for every single person.”
Or this old chestnut.
“Hey, if you give them money, they won’t get a job. You got to lift yourself up by your bootstraps.”
I don’t believe that folks who say this one understand just how hard some other folks have it. If you go to a shelter and talk to those in need, you find out that trying to get a job when you are so far down you can’t afford clean clothes or a phone ain’t an easy task. Sometimes a tragedy comes so hard and heavy, there are no bootstraps, period. Some of us get so far down, there is no lifeline. And if one of those folks is right next to me, for whatever reason, it’s now on me to do something. What I can help with might be tiny, but tiny can move the needle sometimes. And I will tell you, the times I have had no cash on me, just asking someone’s name and smiling at them, putting out my hand to shake—this usually leads to a hug or conversation. And we both felt better. We all just want to feel seen and heard, to feel the slightest bit of kindness. To know that we are valuable.
I submit to you fine blog readers today, it’s not even about the money (hey, the money helps, don’t get me wrong). It’s about basic kindness and seeing ourselves in one another. Sometimes people just need a little help to keep hope. It costs nothing to be kind. It’s almost as important to our souls as it is to theirs.
Once we start looking for reasons to see people as OTHER, I believe a little bit of our hearts shuts down. And the more people we shut out, the easier it gets to do, and the harder it is to feel our own connection to this world.
I’ve got well-to-do friends that give INCREDIBLE amounts of money to schools, libraries, churches, etc., but balk at me when I give a few bucks to someone on a street corner. I am lucky to be able to do it. If there’s even a chance it buys food or shelter, then I’m in. We all see the world a little differently, but most of us really do want to help.
Now, if you yourself are barely holding on, I get it. You just don’t have anything to give. You have to get some solid ground to stand on. You have to be able to swim before you can pull someone else up into the boat. But those of us who can spare a buck or five? What if you gave 10 or 20 and just made someone’s day? I forget just how lucky I am to have extra money when a good portion of the world struggles to eat and find water each day. So many of us have no trouble lighting up a $50-plus bar tab, but then won’t give change to someone in the cold because “Hey, they might just go buy a beer.” What? If I were living in bitter cold, I would drink a damn sight more than I do.
If you have presents under your tree and don’t remember what all of them are, give back.
If you don’t have to think about how much money is in your account before you pay a bill, give back.
If you haven’t had to think about where a meal is coming from or how much the clothes on your back cost, give back.
Have you ever gone to DAV or Salvation Army and donated boxes of stuff- some of it you never even used? give back
Give to an animal shelter (the four-leggeds were domesticated by us, and they depend on us now to get along). Give to Toys for Tots. Maybe go to the soup kitchen and wash some dishes.
It feels good to help. To contribute. To show up. You’ll feel better, and whoever is getting a little help will hopefully be a tiny step closer to getting their lives back in order. I believe that for most people, it’s not easy to beg. We all have our pride. If we get to know these folks, if we listen to their stories, we find something usually happened there. Something that would break most of us.
Maybe it’s three a.m.s in every city we could find to play and getting used to talking to anyone and everyone during a loadout, but I’ve met some incredibly kind strangers who are just having a run of bad luck. I’ve met some real jerks, too, but they are few and far between. That means when I give some money away, I like my odds. I’ve had a 6 foot 10 father in tears holding his fevered baby in his arms beg us for money for medicine as the tornado sirens went off in Tulsa. I’ve seen my man Jesse Reichenberger roll down the window and slap money in a man’s hand AS HE KEPT DRIVING THE VAN through a shielded green turn lane full of moving traffic. (Now that’s in the handoff hall of fame, kids). I’ve heard a grandmother who saved her grandbabies from men who abused them in ways I can’t say here or neither of us will be able to get back to our day.
If you haven’t spent much time in a big city, or if the fear the news sells us is all over you, it’s very easy to start believing that everything in this world is out to get ya. Granted, there are a few areas that have simply run out of hope, and there are folks with mental issues who cannot be treated by basic homeless shelters, and you may need to stay on your side of the street. But that’s what our instincts are for. The band has talked to a ton of homeless folks across years and years on the road, and I have had no troubles. When someone is looking us in the eyes and asking for some help, let’s roll the window down and smile. We are lucky to have what we have. This is a great way to show the world we know just how lucky we are.
I’ll close with a quick Garth Brooks story (anyone who knows me well hasn’t escaped at least one story about Willie, KISS, or Garth).
Garth was doing a ton of nights at whatever enormo-dome there is down in Dallas. He decided to tell the fans they get a discount on their tickets for bringing in canned goods. The food was loaded into his empty sound and light trucks, and as he was playing the show, his drivers took the fleet of once-empty trucks around the city delivering the food.
There is always something we can do. Giving, listening, trying to understand and trying to empathize with one another is the glue that holds our society together. We gotta keep talking to one another, and we gotta be able to see ourselves in one another or the whole thing comes down around us.
We are not OTHER. We are very much the same. Thanks to my friends and neighbors for giving me a chance to remember that, and here’s to feeling this all year-round, not just for the holidays.
Love you fools. Happy holidays and see ya next Wednesday for more of these rants.
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