It’s a quiet evening in the Gobes household. The autumn sun sets early as the rich aroma of Barefoot Contessa’s boeuf bourguignon peaks our appetites. With a click of the mouse, my cozy, quiet, comfort-food kitchen is suddenly infused with emotion as my family quickly transitions from hunger to contemplation to tears to determination to inspired action.
My children and I are wrapped around the sound of a news story aired by NPR online, brought to living color by Paula Bronstein’s stirring photo of a Filipino expressing his raw suffering after Typhoon Haiyan.
For a long moment we four are suspended in stillness as we connect with his suffering. His tears flow through our eyes as we watch the computer screen in silence.
I break the hush and spend a few minutes talking about what it means to be human. This man is a stranger. He is thousands of miles away, but his pain is as familiar to us as our own breath.
My youngest children are 9, 7, and 5. They know suffering, or at least they think they do. Their low points are dredged up by missing sneakers on gym day, by two green brussel sprouts on a dinner plate. But their imaginations are fertile and their capacity for compassion is immense. They examine the man’s expression and begin to list emotions he might be feeling. They, too, feel those things. They connect the dots. He’s just like us.
“How can you help him?” I ask.
“We can send him blankets!” suggests one.
“He’s not cold, he’s wearing short sleeves,” says the other. “How about pillows?”
“How can we get the pillows to him?”
Maybe the best way to help him from so far away is to raise money. He can use it to import what he needs,” I suggest.
“Can we color him a picture, Mommy?” my little one requests.
“You bet, babe.”
My 9 year-old seems to be experiencing a paradigm shift. She picks up the house phone and begins to dial with great urgency. She’s recruiting her besties to lead a fundraising effort – a good old fashioned coin collection. Empty your piggy banks, fellow third graders! The people of the Philippines need our pocket change! She disappears into her bedroom, chittering quickly, hashing out details and coordinating collection locations.
My 7 year-old has settled back into her book Big Nate, but upon absorbing her big sister’s charitable enthusiasm, she ditches the read and picks up a marker. “How do you spell typhoon?” She churns out several posters as I type emails to friends soliciting support for the children’s mission.
My 5 year-old is on the edge. He’s constructing cannons out of Tinker Toys and monitoring the commotion cautiously. “Mommy,” he ventures, “Can I ask Jack and Billy to give quarters to that man?” I respond in the affirmative and hear his barely audible, “Yessssss.” He continues to quietly play with his cannons.
“Can you believe that a 5 year-old boy like you can do something important like this? You have the power to help a grown man feel better. You’re like a superhero. What do you think about that, buddy?”
“Good,” he mutters, not lifting his head. But I can see past his long bangs that he’s smiling. The enthusiasm for this project is contagious.
Big sister returns to the kitchen, placing the cordless on my desk. The plan is a go. The primary players are enlisted. We decide to collect change until Thanksgiving and have a coin counting party on #GivingTuesday. They’re excited to be part of such a special day.
Dinner is hot and it’s time to eat. I take a moment to reflect. In the time it took a pot of stew to boil, my children adopted a cause and took action. I’m reminded of a quote by Seneca, “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste of a lot of it.” No wasted time here. Giddy-up.
Give what you can, how you can, where you can. And be sure to give your all on #GivingTuesday.