Seeing is believing. Television producers know this. So do newspapers, this is why they print photographs. I am not, nor was I before last weekend, one of those conspiracy theorists who think the moon landing was staged; I am one of the reasonable folks, a believer if you will. But I learned something all over again last weekend when I got to see firsthand something I already believed in. I learned it against my will. I had other plans. Recreational ones.
I had already done my part, I was done. A sign-up sheet had been passed around in Sunday School and I could see that there were plenty of people in the room to fill the available slots. I signed my name on an open space and passed the clipboard on to the person next to me. I silently nodded my head up and down showing approval of the great work to which I had just committed myself. Yes, I am a good man and I had just signed up to do my part.
My part was to drop off empty grocery bags on people’s porches for a community food drive. I was given a route of approximately 200 homes and a stack of bags to deliver over one weekend. The home owners were informed that if they wished to participate in the food drive to simply fill the bag with non-perishable food items and leave it on their curb the following Saturday. There was another group of people, who signed their names on a different space on the sign-up sheet, who would then drive around the neighborhoods picking up filled bags of food to then go drop off at the municipal food pantry. This food would then be given out to those in need, homeless, unemployed, or just plain hungry.
I loved the idea. This was, and shall I say is, a great example of religious congregations working together with municipalities, to involve the general community in helping the needy. Sold! I’m a believer. I read the flier and was all in, no printed picture or images needed. Done.
Done, just like I was after dropping off 189 paper grocery bags. I didn’t do it all alone; I made my two young daughters help. They were fairly willing participants. We all drove to the assigned neighborhood, I gave them each a stack of bags, and told them the first one to finish their side of the street was the winner. The prize was only a round of applause but they weren’t disappointed. The feelings felt from participating in something good were reward enough. Good kids, good dad, all done. Nice job.
The next Friday I found myself carrying a rolled up blanket to a neighborhood outdoor movie. I had been looking forward to this Friday, not for the movie, but because it meant it was almost Saturday. I was especially happy for this Saturday because I had no plans and a green light from the powers that be to spend my plan-less time doing only what I pleased. I was beholden to no one and I meant to capitalize in some unplanned fashion even if it meant doing nothing. I worked hard that week and I had earned it. I wandered around the grassy area till I found an open spot next to my good friend Gary and his family. I spread out the blanket, gave my small people permission to go eat some unhealthy things, and got a fabulous idea.
“Gary! What are you doing tomorrow morning!”
I blurted out the question the moment inspiration hit me. Hiking. We should go hiking. Gary is always looking for something to do, I needed some recreation, he’s a cool guy, perfect scenario.
Gary looked up from his blanket and gaggle of kids and replied, “I’m finishing up that food drive. Why? You wanna come help?”
My inspired idea popped and fizzled like “get well” balloon at a funeral.
“Um-Uh-Oh yeah. Ha, ha, no. Ya see we dropped off bags last weekend. We already helped. No, uh, I was gonna see if you wanted to go hiking in the morning.”
I had forgotten that Gary was the guy who had been asked to coordinate this whole food drive project. He didn’t really volunteer for it but didn’t bat an eye when they asked him to do it. He didn’t frown or fret at my stammering, he just smiled and declined the hiking and repeated his invitation for me to help.
My mind quickly retorted “Dude. Didn’t you just hear me? I said we already did our part. We are done man!” While this was in my mind, something, perhaps the memory of my mother’s advice to be nice, it didn’t come out of my mouth. Nothing came out, I just sort stood with an empty stare. He took opportunity of the pause to cheerfully explain that there was still plenty of work to be done, he had dropped off bags too but wasn’t sure there would be enough people at the food pantry to handle the response so he planned to show up there just in case. He said it the same way you recount math; matter of factly, no guile. It caught me off guard. He didn’t make me feel bad, or even guilty, though I did feel a little bit of that as I stared at my deflated hiking idea on the ground, but it didn’t come from him. It came from me.
I said yes.
He said he would pick me up at 10.
The next morning at 10:15 I saw it. I saw it and I believed.
Cars started showing up with bags full of groceries and drivers full of smiles. Some cars came with two bags, a couple came with twenty. I pitched in carrying bags and cans inside where the food was separated, organized and shelved. People would drive up, others would scurry about carrying and sorting, and the stack of food grew and grew. Gary was counting the bags as they came in, comparing that number to the number of empty bags distributed. Five percent. Five percent is the ratio of how many people donated compared to the number of bags left on porches. Gary had hoped for ten. By the time we wrapped up that percentage had grown to seven. In that seven percent I saw something I would have missed had I gone up the mountainside as planned.
I saw potential for the greatness of humanity.
I saw it in the smiles of the drivers delivering donated food. I saw it in the stack of food that filled the racks inside the pantry. I saw it in Gary and his clipboard. I got to see that if you drop off empty bags on the porches of strangers, they will in fact fill it with food to give to the homeless. That is amazing. I did not consider seven percent is a huge return, until I considered the amount of food that percentage produced. It was a lot of food. For and from strangers! It was wonderful. It was wonderful and I almost missed it. I almost missed it because I considered myself to already be a believer. I didn’t need to see. I wasn’t Thomas and I had already done my part. Oh, but how glad am I that I got to see. How glad am I that Gary gave me that little push to do a little more.
Before he pushed me, by just inviting, I think I was experiencing a seven percent return of goodness on that food drive. My kids had participated, we got the bags onto doorsteps, it was good. That seven percent of good didn’t compare to the good I felt and saw Saturday morning. All because Gary gave me a chance to do just a little more than I signed up for, just a little more than just my part. I saw it and my belief went to a new place.
Imagine if all those neighborhoods had done just a little bit more. Or maybe if they could just see what I saw. Imagine what the whole city could do with just one more little invitation. Imagine the country or the world if we were all asked to go just a little bit past that seven percent, if everyone could see that good that could be done. It would almost be enough to make me think we would never need to do such a project ever again.
If just a little. A little bit.