It’s an interesting thought to me that so much of what I hold dear or find “normal” for goodness in my life, I know are in no way a given or granted to me. What I mean by that is that right now I’m typing this on a current macbook, with my iphone xs max sitting to my side, in my office, at my job, and when I get off work I’ll ride my motorcycle (one of three I have) to my home, to spend time with my wife. I’m not at all trying to sound braggy, I’m pointing out that I’m incredibly grateful for each of these things. All of these facts are commonly true, but that doesn’t make them common to me.
Daily I must remind myself that my current status in life is held together by a tenuous thread, and easily lost.
I’ve watched as marriages of friends and loved ones around me have crumbled. Relationships that I envied or respected withered and died. And those people aren’t less than me, less worthy or less good- we’re all just one set of circumstances away from finding out how low we can fall. I can’t take it for granted that I have a wife who loves me, and that I enjoy her company and camaraderie in this life. It’s us against the world, and I find her as attractive or more than I did 20 years ago when we met ( truly, we met in 1998, and I’m typing this in 2018). But so many friends who met and married back when we did are no more. Some lost spouses to death, some to changes or heart or values- and I could no more have known the caliber of woman I was marrying when I chose her as directed the weather to be as I like.
Not only easily lost, but also not easily gained. Where I am is not where I have been. I’ve been a step away from homelessness, hopelessness, and a life of crime. I’ve teetered on the edge of being the sort of person who’d have been fine drinking away my troubles, or stealing away my poverty. But not for glimpses of humility at the right moments in my life, I would have followed my hearts desires right back to the grave or prison cell. I’ve had to work hard, maybe even harder than most. I’ve known people in this life who seem to not struggle with my struggles. Depression, inner misanthropy, pride, and greed- I daily battle my inner demons just to walk through a door and treat people the way they ought to be treated. Love, both for myself and others does not come naturally to me. It takes extreme effort. But I recognize it’s worth it. God loves people, gave his life for them, so in that light, how could I offer one iota less, but then revel in his love for me? But the reason, cause, instigator of my effort towards goodness being simple in no way makes it easy.
Yes I’ve had to work hard. Post-jail I took a minimum wage job to make ends meet and kept it for the whole time I was on probation (7 years) to make ends meet. I took side jobs and computer work to get by, and now I am working IT again, and loving it, but my efforts alone cannot explain my current station, but rather my actions defy where I am! I work hard yes, but I mess up hard too! Many people have had lives ruined for far less!
And yet, my gains cannot be attributed to my hard work! I genuinely often point out the fact that yes, my hard work has allowed me to have some of the success that I have BUT I did not choose to be born into a country where my efforts could do so. There are those who’ve worked far harder than I, and yet come away with only a life of suffering. People born into servitude or slavery still exist in this world, and I made no wise decision to choose to live my life in this place and time I live, as though by my foresight I made this happen. Not only physical effort, but I’m a scrawny nerd, who makes his living with what I know! I can take no claim to insight for being born into this time in history, where a person like me could do well with my wits instead of my muscle. My brain can’t recall names for crap, but I can recall the binary doubles of ram through all the usable numbers like it was a phone number, and configuring a server seems intuitive to me. I can’t lay claim to that, I didn’t make myself that way, and I didn’t certainly choose to be put here and now.
Not only my efforts are not my own to claim, but I must revel in how often my gains aren’t even from my efforts! Truly, I live in a house I own, but did not purchase. Let me list only a few ways I’ve been humbled by others carrying my through this life:
My house was bought by a friend, then financed to me on the best terms in the history of the world. We’d never be in a house we own if not for the generosity of a friend.
When I was fresh out of jail, and had no money to my name, and no foreseeable time when that would change, someone I hardly knew came and offered to me to pay for my and my brothers to get scuba certified. As I look back on a hobby that changed the last almost decade, diving has been indescribable in the ways that it has changed me. It’s provided a comfort, fun, social life, and sense of adventure that brings me great satisfaction. And yet, when I look back on it, I went from open water to instructor having never shelled out cash for a class. Doesn’t mean I didn’t work for it, but that I would never have been able to teach and love this current season of my dive life, if it wasn’t for the kindness of others to work with me, or strait out gift me what they did.
Lightening round because I’m getting overwhelmed- a 25 thousand dollar loan at the right moment, carpet for our new home gifted to us by someone I met that day, a job that fell into my lap from friend connections, my buddy buying the dive shop that otherwise I’d have gotten out of teaching, a fence provided both in work and materials by a friend, a beautiful house in Sunriver I’ve “rented” for free more times than I could ever deserve, a quarter off our rent for years on end from a former students parents, 5 trips to the Bahamas cost-free, a trip to Paris paid for by friends, 3 motorcycles in the garage, a hot tub, 3 cats, a shed full of scuba gear. This isn’t a list of things that make me great, it’s a list of things I have that I can’t take credit for!
More than I could possibly understand or list all gifted, granted, given- not because of the quality of me, the recipient, but as demonstrations of the quality of the people giving. My life is overwhelmed by the generosity of others, to a level I know I could never repay.
Truthfully, sometimes I struggle with no valuing the gifts more than the giver- I have a pair of socks that for years were my all time most loved pair of socks. Super warm, didn’t get saggy, sweaty, just perfect. They were given to me one year for Christmas by a friend that was just barely above an acquaintance, to the point that when I got the socks from her I don’t know I even had a return gift (she was more a friend of my wife than mine). A few years later, when my wife and I were going through a hard time, this young lady dropped us like we were going out of style. Long after the friendship no longer was around, I would put on socks and lament how the gifts from people would long outlast the relationship with the people. Maybe it’s a byproduct of so many people being so kind to me, but I’ve often been grateful to someone for something long after me and that person still talk. The guy who got me into scuba moved away and cut people out. The person who paid for our carpet moved churches, the person who person who gave me a shot and hired me for my dream job got let go a few years later, the lesson not being that people are worth less than the things they provide but that our role in each others lives is by nature transient. Of the people that right now I hold dear, love most, and spend my life with, if I’m still friends with any in ten years, other than my wife, I’ll be shocked. It’s sad, but it’s realistic. Which just means all the more, right now, right here, while I have the chance, I need to go above and beyond in kindness, and telling and showing people that I appreciate not just the gifts, but them, as people, as humans that God loves, I need to make sure right now that I know how much they mean to people. In a word ravaged by the highest suicide rate in recorded history, it’s my role to let people know they are loved, right now. Not because they’ve done kind things for me, or for others, but infinitely beyond our actions, well beyond our means, more than what we do for people, we are worth something even when we are penniless! I don’t have the best finacial means in the world, and even if I did I know that I’ll never be able to repay all that has been done for me to give me a leg up in the world, so I can only hope to pay it forward in whatever opportunity I’m given, and to convey love and worth beyond measure to each person I’m given the chance to do so. That’s my return of investment for so many who’ve blessed me over the years, and I just have to hope it’s enough. Because it’s all I’ve got.