“There’s always somebody worse off than you.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase or sentiment expressed in some way or another over these past six months. I can tell you my first reaction was always silent disbelief. I never doubted the sincerity; I only wondered how the person who said it could focus on and be thankful for what they had instead of lamenting what they didn’t. They were entitled to be angry, to complain that times had gotten tough. But any bit of wallowing quickly vanished at the thought that things could be worse.
The face I see when I hear those words today is that of Judy, one of the very first people I met on this journey as she stood in line at a food bank in Southwestern Virginia. She had made the difficult decision to ask for help when she realized she would not be able to make ends meet that month. Judy was proud, but this was the right decision for her family.
She had reluctantly been coming to the food bank for about a year, on and off. Her eyes began to fill with tears when she thought of another family that might go hungry because of her. She needed staples to help stretch what was left in her pantry and freezer because there were grandchildren at home she was helping to raise. Still, Judy said, she would gladly give up her place in line if someone needed it.
She tried not to cry, but a tear made its escape down her cheek. Judy spoke of her grandmother who taught her that if you help others it would always be returned in your favor. She hoped that her summer garden would be plentiful so that she wouldn’t have to come back again to the food bank any time soon, and maybe even be able to share some fresh vegetables with her neighbors. My disbelief turned into awe.
So often those that have the least to give are the first to give it away. It is a humbling reality and a challenge to those of us who have so much to be thankful for. Will there ever be a day when we can say that no one is “worse off”? I would like to believe there will but I know the odds. Still, I’ve seen how simple acts of generosity can make a world of difference, whether it’s canned goods for a food bank, blankets for a homeless shelter, or taking just a moment to smile at a stranger.
I gave Judy a hug when our interview was over. She was so brave to share her story. I knew I couldn’t make things any better for her in that moment but I could take her message and pass it on. Maybe her story would help someone in some way and then it would be returned in her favor.
I believe she’s off to a good start.