Today’s blog was inspired by a song I hadn’t heard in a very long time that brought back a lot of memories of very different scenarios that I have decided to share with you today.
What you do not know about me is that I grew up in rather modest circumstances. There was no lack but also not all too much luxury as material things are concerned. I started working at the age of 14 to spruce up my modest pocket money and allow myself one or the other luxury that otherwise I could not afford. In other words, I have been working to earn my keep for over 40 years now.
In my life I have had financial ups and downs, going from rags to riches and back again. I will not go into detail about why – not really being too concerned about money and not making it my top priority in life may be one of the reasons though.
But I do know how quickly you can lose literally everything and how hard it can be to get back up on your feet. Perhaps that is why I find it difficult to walk past people on the street, begging for some change. Even if I have never been in that particular situation, I have enough imagination to empathise.
I have raised my children to be kind to others who have less and when they give something to someone on the streets to look them in the eye and wish them at least a good day and not just throw something in a jar. It may surprise you to hear though that I absolutely refuse to donate even a cent to any organisations – I never have and I never will. The reason for me is simple. They might do some good, I will certainly not deny this, yet it bothers me that often more than 90% of the donated money goes into administration, flying executives around the world in first class, or that prestigious new headquarters are built from that money that should go to the needy. It may be petty but for me, it is a personal choice not to support these organisations.
I prefer the more personal approach. I would like to share with you three very specific examples of what I have chosen to do at one point or another, not because I am such a great and charitable person but simply to raise some awareness.
At the end of every year, especially around Christmas time, many people decide to do something charitable – often to soothe their own conscience – and donate money. Don’t misunderstand me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There are eleven more months to the year though and often we walk the streets and see someone sitting there, hoping for some change. These people are often judged as dirty, lazy, even as disgusting, and looked at as garbage of humanity. Of course, I know there are professional begging gangs out there – I am not that naive.
I remember about 20something years ago when I lived in Wiesbaden, Germany and I was walking through the pedestrian zone, doing my shopping when I noticed a young man with his puppy sitting on a blanket and begging. I had already passed him and something made me go back. I approached him and asked him why he was sitting there. It turned out that he was from Romania, and barely spoke German but Romanian, English, and Italian. So we continued in English and the first thing I heard was a growling stomach. I asked him when he had last eaten and it turned out to be a few days ago. He needed the money that the passers-by gave him for his dog – a young dog must not go hungry. I asked him what he would like to eat and went to the nearest bakery. We sat together on his blanket, ate something together, and talked. This young man’s dream was to work as a trucker in Canada (something no one dreams of anymore, and I mean the Canada part). Since his German was very bad, no one wanted to give him a job. Since I didn’t know him and it could have been a lame excuse, I offered to help him find work. At first, he was completely taken aback, but then he started beaming. I told him that if he was serious, he should find somewhere to wash or shower and wait for me at the same place at a certain time the next day. I was curious to see if he would be there. To my great delight, he was there, freshly showered and smelling much better than the day before. I had brought him clean clothes from a friend and he looked like a new man. I took some photos and we went through his CV. I promised to bring him copies of it with his photo the very next day at the same time. When he went to give me back the new clothes and I told him to please keep them, he had tears in his eyes. We said goodbye and then I got incredibly lucky. I passed an antique shop that actually had a notice that they were looking for a temp with a truck driver’s licence who could help with the transport of the antique furniture. I went in immediately, showed the pictures of the young man, briefly explained the situation, and told him the story. The owner of the shop was open and knew English, and as they say – the rest is history. Apart from a little time, the whole thing cost me next to nothing. No, I don’t know what happened to the young man, but I hope that he made it to Canada and was able to fulfill his dream.
The second example was in my first year in Munich. It was a horrifically cold winter that year. I had some errands to run after work and I was on my way home. I walked by an old homeless woman and she was wrapped up in pretty much everything she had, including plastic bags over her shoes (at least I believe she had shoes). She was shivering and I went up to her and asked her if I could help her find a shelter of some kind – I had no idea where to find one in Munich but was sure that there must be something I could do so she would not freeze to death. She looked absolutely terrified and was very clear that a homeless shelter was not an option. I was getting a little desperate and as I could not think of anything else to do I went to an outdoor store that was nearby and luckily still open and bought her the warmest sleeping bag I could find and something to eat. It was not much but perhaps it got her through the winter and I hope no one stole it from her.
The last example I want to share with you is actually the one that first came back to me when I heard the song I was talking about earlier. I was in Salt Lake City for a Convention several years ago and we could walk from the hotel to the convention center every day, which I loved as sitting all day is not my cup of tea. We walked by a group of the same homeless men every day and I cannot tell you why but there was one man that caught my eye from day one. I cannot say why but something about him moved me deeply. On the last day, it was the day of my departure, I figured I could give him my last 20 or so dollars as I would not need them. So on my way back to the hotel I walked up to him and said: “Hello, my name is Tanja, what’s your name?”. To my utter shock, he just looked at me and began to cry. I felt completely helpless and was almost considering walking away. I asked him why he was crying and what I had done to provoke this reaction. What came next is something that made me cry. He said that I was the first person that spoke to him in almost two weeks and that people had spit at him, kicked him, verbally abused him, and that he had forgotten what it feels like to be treated with kindness. How can this be? Why do we judge people so quickly? Why can’t we at least acknowledge that everyone has a story? This man’s name was James, he was a war veteran with PTSD that lost his wife, and his children because the man that came back from the war was a different one. I do not know if the story he told me was true, but I looked into his eyes, and the pain I saw there was heart-wrenching.
I am not saying I don’t judge people, I certainly do. Yet I try, as often as I can, to consider that there is a story!
Thank you for reading this letter, as sharing this means more to me than I can possibly express.
🎶My Song of the Day
This is the song that inspired today’s letter – What It’s Like by Everlast. This is an acoustic version of the song, which I hope you enjoy.
And here is a little extra goody!
📚My Poem of the Day
Is by Simon Armitage
Of all the public places, dear to make a scene, I’ve chosen here. Of all the doorways in the world to choose to sleep, I’ve chosen yours. I’m on the street, under the stars. For coppers I can dance or sing. For silver-swallow swords, eat fire. For gold-escape from locks and chains. It’s not as if I’m holding out for frankincense or myrrh, just change. You give me tea. That’s big of you. I’m on my knees. I beg of you.
It’s remembering those moments when you know you are truly rich!
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Thank you again for reading and if you enjoy it, share it, leave a ❤️, or a comment. Wishing you a wonderful day filled with kindness!