Sometimes it seems like there just isn’t enough. Enough time. Enough money. Enough happiness. But what is enough in our lives? Here are some stories for the journey.
It was nearing Christmas in Georgia. Hot. Humid. But I had signed up for this work and while much of it was fulfilling, it wasn’t always easy. I was in my mid-20s and had joined a group serving the poor in the rural South and Appalachia. I had to be self-supporting so I worked at a day care center in the African-American community.
These children, ages 3-5, had so little. Despite their poverty, they found delight in the smallest of things, being pushed on a swing, listening to a story, throwing a ball to each other.
As Christmas approached, my friend and I decided to buy the children some gifts. She was the social worker at the center and so, with the Georgia sun beating down on us one December day, we set out to buy dolls, stuffed toys, games, trucks. We wrapped each present and then went to deliver them.
The first stop was to the home of 5-year-old Willie James. The car bounced down a red-clay road into woods and then into an open space. When his “home” came into view, I stared in disbelief. It was a shack of tacked-together corrugated tin walls.
William James’ mother greeted us at the door. We walked into the one-room dwelling and onto dirt floors. Worn quilts hung on a clothesline, separating one space from the other. The smell of “greens” boiling on a makeshift fire filled the air with a pungent scent and smoke.
Willie James stood there, excited that his “teachers” had come to visit. My friend squatted down at eye level and handed him the Christmas package. “Here, Willie James. For you. Merry Christmas!”
His eyes grew wide and he broke into a smile and then laughter, grabbing for the gift. He tore at the wrapping paper, his joy spilling into the darkened room, unable to contain himself. When he saw the metal dump truck, he held it high in the air and then to his heart, clutching it as if someone might take it away.
“This is the BEST Christmas I ever had,” he shouted, kneeling down and scooting the truck on the dirt floor.
My heart swelled. I had seen poverty growing up in a Mexican “barrio” in Texas. But not like this. I would see more years later.
I had been working in public relations for a religious community of women serving the poor — especially women and children –in 19 countries. As part of my job, I was sent to write about one of the Sisters working in Tijuana, Mexico.
The people there lived in a “garbage dump” town, next to a stench-filled, skyscraper-tall mountain of trash. Each day, they would scour through the filth to salvage plastics, metals, anything they might sell to bring them perhaps $1 for the day. They foraged through things I can’t even imagine, just so they could survive.
The houses in this community, much like the one of Willie James, were a patchwork of plywood and corrugated metals. As I walked through the rutted, muddied streets, I didn’t see tears. Or complaints. I saw boys and girls playing, chasing each other, laughing. They had so little. But in their hearts, they were content.
Why do I share these stories? Because years later, I know the reality of these children — whether they are in Georgia, Tijuana or any part of the globe — has not changed. While they may laugh and play, they still have so little of the basics of life such as nutritious food, education, health care. Their futures are severely limited because they simply do not have enough.
In the face of such lack and “not enough-ness,” it is easy to become overwhelmed. It is easy to fall back on “There’s really nothing I can do.” But here is what I believe. We start where we are. One person. One simple act of service. We donate to a food pantry. We help someone with a job search. We visit a homebound person. We take an elderly person shopping. We are simply present to another person and hear what they have to say.
When it comes down to it, most of us really do have more than enough. And whatever that may be — time, money, resources, a listening heart — we can share from our surplus so that others may have enough.
In the end, only we can decide what is “enough” in life. The choice is always ours.