Before I begin, you have to remember, I’m the one with “comfort zone” issues. So, you will understand when I say, honestly, I still can’t believe I’m sitting at a bar at Hobby Airport in Houston Texas with my friend after a 72 hour “Tikkun Olam” or “repair the world” mission for the Jewish Federation. We have a little time before our plane takes off so we sit back, order a drink from a super sweet waiter with a southern drawl and instantly, our thoughts begin to flow. The waiter asked if we wanted our drinks straight up or dirty and this set my mind running. I thought, like a martini, giving and serving comes in two forms, either dirty or straight up. More on this later.
Just 72 hours ago I began my journey into the muck and gut of Houston, Texas. My friend and I began mucking, gutting and scrubbing mold from the remains of what was someone’s home. Thoughts stir in our minds like the dirty drink we just ordered. How fortunate we really are. At the same time, it’s hard not to think about how many opportunities have been missed simply because of everyday minutia. I wonder why we had to fly all the way to Texas to get our hands dirty, not to mention our new construction boots that waded through toxic waste, nails and insulation; and all the drywall I plowed through. It seems, that sometimes, we need to feel something tangible in order to believe it is real. Sometimes, we need to smell the mold to understand its danger, and sometimes, we need to be part of something other than ourselves in order to really understand it.
You know, it’s easy to write a check. I’ve done it my entire adult life, always thinking that was the best I could do and that my anonymous gift would have some profound effect without ever getting my hands dirty. Don’t get me wrong, writing a check is a good thing. We should all write checks. But that is not the only way of giving. Like I said before, serving others can come in two forms, dirty or straight up. We so often contribute to charities by donating funds so that the professionals can do what they do best; on the ground social services, medical attention or education. We write a check to an organization that helps young people go to summer camp or we are helping along with others to fund medical research. We donate to animal rescues shelters so pets have shelter until forever homes are found. Providing funds is an important part of repairing this world.
But every once in a while, we are given the opportunity to put on gloves, a hard hat and a mask. Over the past few days, we were given the opportunity to get dirty with the residents of Houston, still trying to get out from under Hurricane Harvey. It’s been 8 long weeks since the waters receded and people are still digging themselves out of the muck. Believe me, it was a “mucking” mess.
I don’t know if it is the byproduct of better child rearing, but there were so many people from all over the country there, helping, being of service. As I got to know them, it was apparent, this was not some stretch for them to push the limits of their personal boundaries, it was second nature, part of who they were, ingrained in them. It was then that I realized, for some, the harder the task the easier the commitment. Human beings are amazing creatures, so filled with good, while at the same time, so capable of evil. The struggle between these two parts of ourselves makes true charity such an amazing act.
So, when it was time to pack up I had to take a moment to think about what had just happened. I had left my cocoon of comfort (not that it is not filled with my own brand of floods, hurricanes and destruction, but that is another article all together). The reality is that while it was wonderful to go and be part of something so large, I did not need to travel to Houston to do it. There are people, places and things in our own neighborhoods, homes and lives that can use some elbow grease. Sending good wishes or sympathy cards are beautiful things, but showing up to comfort a friend in need or going to hold hands and smile with a sick person are powerful acts. As with most things that matter, the things in life that are most meaningful are sometimes a little dirty.
I like my drinks straight up. But, sometimes, I have to get out of my “comfort zone” and have my drink dirty. It’s all about balance. I need to do more than write a check. When presented the opportunity I have to teach myself to say yes, to put myself in the unknown and trust that the cause is more important than my comfort.
So, next time the opportunity arises, ask yourself, do I want my charity to be straight up or dirty? I learned a little dirty in life sometimes is a cleansing act.