As a Tennessee farm kid growing up in a family with four younger sisters but without two nickels to rub together, my Father learned at a young age the value of community. Farmers had good years when their crops were plentiful and the future looked bright. There were also bad years when the weather did more to hinder than help their livelihood. It was their faith in God and reliance on their fellow man that carried them through the lean times.
They turned resourcefulness into an art form and rarely threw anything away. Table scraps were fed to the pigs or became compost to nurture the soil. Empty egg cartons cradled seedlings on beds of dirt and soda can tabs held picture frames on walls. Clothes were patched up until there was no wear left in them. Then, they were cut into squares and sewn into beautiful heirlooms among the church ladies at quilting bees. Everything, no matter how small or insignificant, had more than one purpose.
So it was no surprise when my Father jumped at the chance to help out with an ingenious church project three years ago. A group of ladies crocheted sleeping mats made of plastic bags – also called ‘plarn’ –for the homeless. Not only did this solve the dilemma of thousands of used plastic bags, but it provided a waterproof, easily transportable sleeping mat that served as a barrier against cold concrete.
Each mat was made of between 500 – 700 plastic bags. Volunteers were needed to cut the bags into strips, loop them together and wind them up into balls. Enter my Dad.
He took to this project like a military operation. Every morning and afternoon, he sat at the kitchen table, sheering off plastic bag handles and then cutting the bags into thin strips. He placed the loops onto the arms of the dining room chairs until they could hold no more. Then he meticulously hooked them all together with a basic larks head knot and wound them up into balls larger than grapefruits. I started calling him ‘Bagdad’.
My Father absolutely loved this project. He had a purpose and was thrilled that he could do something to help someone in need. It thrilled us that he wasn’t excluded from volunteering because of his illness and he could work on the bags at his own pace whenever he chose.
There are two kinds of people in this world – givers and takers. Givers love to give and takers love to take and give only to themselves. But every single one of us has a need to give. Every one of us needs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
When we hold onto things out of greed, fear or selfishness, we become self-absorbed and see everyone as either better than us or beneath us. We wrongly assume the role as judge and use our own flawed self as the standard by which to measure everyone and everything. Nothing good can come from that.
But when we give, it reminds us of our humanity and our innate need for community. It lets us see the bigger picture, rather than our own limited perspective. It also reminds us that since we came into the world with nothing and will leave the world the same way, we are really only stewards of that which has been entrusted to us.
Anyone can give. And money isn’t always required. Time is the one currency which makes every person equal. Every single one of us is given 24 hours in every day. It’s our choice how we use it.
Let’s start the New Year with a lesson from Bagdad. Be a giver, not a taker.