Thursday, November 12, 2015

Be a Blessing

I was about halfway through my second semester at the University of Richmond and ready to quit. Things were not going well. I was working 25 hours a week building wooden pallets in an unairconditioned and unheated warehouse in Ashland while taking a full load of classes at UR, and the grind was wearing me out. My grades weren't good. Commuting all the way from Hanover every morning and working until nearly six every night made for a very long day. As a "townie" I was enjoying none of the raucous social life associated with the college experience, and felt isolated from most of my fellow students by a wide gulf of privilege; many of them were from wealthy, old-money New England families whose BMW convertibles made my 1966 VW Beetle look even shabbier than it actually was.

So, I was feeling very sorry for myself one Saturday morning when I walked across the church parking lot towards my Dad's tiny office to broach the subject of dropping out of school. There he was, slathering a shiny line of black ink on the squeegee of the hand cranked mimeograph machine so he could print out the church bulletins. I always loved the smell of the thing and was temporarily side tracked into helping him with the process, until I eventually spilled all of my troubles to him and informed him of my decision to quit. He kept his attention on the machine and said nothing for the longest time.

Dad had a way of making you feel like an idiot without saying anything remotely unpleasant. In my case, he acknowledged how difficult I had it, but then in a very matter-of-fact, almost kind tone of voice began reminding me that when he went to the University of Richmond, he had four children to feed, and worked the graveyard shift at Reynold's Metals six days a week and still somehow managed to stay on the Deen's list. He never considered quitting because quitting simply wasn't an option. Then he said something I have never forgotten, which I will attempt to paraphrase.

"Son, it seems to me that all you're thinking about right now is yourself and all of your problems. I suppose that's natural for someone to do when things aren't going well, but just because it might be natural doesn't mean it's a good way to live. I want you to try something for me. Every morning when you wake up, I want you to thank the Lord for giving you another day, and then ask yourself this question...how can I be a blessing to someone today? Then, go about your day looking around, paying attention to the people around you, paying attention to the situations that you find yourself in that day, looking for a way that you can be a blessing to someone. See, no matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone else worse off than you. We don't see them because we are always too wrapped up in ourselves we don't notice. But if you strive each and every day to pay attention to those around you, you'll discover a world of hurt out there. You might find that a kind word here, a cup of coffee there might make a world of difference not only to the people you help, but to you too. Everyday we are given our daily ration of God's clean air to breathe, and everyday we should be striving to justify our share."

Obviously, I didn't drop out of school. Once again I was saved from myself by the simple wisdom of my Dad's words. But this particular talk has stayed with me. I haven't always lived up to his advice, but on the days that I have, it has made all the difference. One of the reasons I am a Christian today is the example that my parents set for me. Dad was able to pour the truth of the Gospel into me without my even knowing it was happening. The speech he gave me that day was essentially a sermon about The Good Samaritan, without a pulpit. Dad had a way of living out his faith in practical ways without a trace of piety. He believed that if your "faith" didn't actually result in making you a better person...and a blessing to others, what good was it?

Thanks Dad. I miss you.