Sunday, December 21, 2008

The coat off his back

Would you give someone the coat off your back?

I've stopped on the side of the road and spent a few minutes to help someone who ran out of gas, but I have never given someone anything like the coat I was using in the middle of a Utah winter.

I heard about this story through a short Twitter post, and I had to ask to get more of the story from the observer, so he gave me a summary. My first thought was: I've got to get more details! But the truth is that I don't need to know any more; in fact, more details would actually detract from the telling. After reading it, I had to read it over again from the start. And that's the strength of this man's act: it's simply stated, but it's powerful because it seems like such a sacrifice and it's so spontaneous.

Along with those details, the observer wrote: "I think the leader was particularly pleased that nobody really noticed or made a big deal out of it." That's another subtle point to this story: such actions are so grand that it would almost be demeaning for someone to offer the giver a compliment and recognize what he did. That type of recognition is fine for some things, but in this case I think it would be a cause of embarrassment; this was done to help someone else in a big way, and this bit of heaven that he brought transcends any kind of recognition we could offer.


After a scouting function, one of the leaders stayed and talked for a while with one of the families. Finally, he took off his coat and gave it to the man, who said, "But what will you wear?"

"I have other coats at home."

"What about on your way home?"

"It's OK. I'm used to the cold."

The recipient expressed his thanks, and they each went their own way.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

a husband's loving example, years later

This past week was my parents' anniversary, and today is my dad's birthday. Dad died a few years ago; Mom now lives here in Salt Lake, and she decided to go back to Missouri where he is buried to memorialize him this week. I drove her to the airport, and we ended up discussing some of the issues (AKA problems) of the family out here in Utah, and she talked a bit about Dad's example to her.

Dad was more patient and hard-working than most, and although things rarely worked out the way he planned, he always focused on the blessings in his life; he always trusted that things would work out, and he continually kept up a cheery attitude. This was remarkable to us while he was alive, and we respect it even more now that he's passed on. Mom is no exception: she admits that she sometimes took a grim view of things when they didn't have much money or stability in their lives, and she admires Dad all the more now because he was steady even when she was not.

So she mentioned some of the things that are difficult for her now. It wasn't an expression of self-pity, and there was no sense of complaint; there are some things that she is enduring, but even more than that she's trying to make situations better even where there's almost no hope for things to get better. That's the type of attitude that's inspiring: rather than harboring resentment or giving up, you attempt different things and push doggedly through the never-ending problems until you find something that helps. That's Dad's attitude. She cried as she explained how good he was when they first moved to Missouri and didn't have anything; he was good even though he had frustrations and he felt her frustrations. That example keeps her striving to be better and kinder in whatever tough personal issue comes up.

That's how loving-kindness changes lives, even years after the fact.