Monday, October 6, 2008

Even the Soul Hungers

Saturday, April 26, 2008
2:57:27 PM CDT
Feeling Quiet
Hearing The sound of an excited wind

Even the Soul Hungers

Despite years of comfortable living, I still find it easy to remember what it was like to be hungry. These abilities provide me a sense of empathy when I meet someone struggling for their next meal and I find myself compelled to help them fill that need. That urge to assist was strong in me the day I noticed a Vietnam vet holding a sign on Perryville road that simply read: “Vet will work for food”. Tears blurred the road ahead of me insisting I run through the nearby McDonalds drive-thru in order to obtain the nourishment this man sought to have. Believing I was about to give hope to this struggling man, I rolled down my driver’s window and handed him a bag that contained a quarter pounder with cheese meal and a coke to wash it all down. In my days of struggle, a meal like this to me would have been like a fillet mignon with a side of mushrooms to a rich man. Topped with a Coke, life simply could not have gotten much better than that. Instead of the grateful “thank you” I assumed to receive, what was said to me afterwards took me back about eight paces. The vet simply looked upon the gift, grimaced and said, “I can’t eat that. It will tear up my stomach”, and turned to look back onto the street, hoping some other Good Samaritan would better accommodate his request than I. Instantly I was flooded with emotions of hurt followed by anger. I asked nothing of the man. Neither to mow my lawn or paint my house nor to wash my car, and yet, I had discovered that this man, so hungry that he would challenge the laws of panhandling in hopes of obtaining a meal, looked down on me with disgust. I simply had to understand why. His reply was shocking: “I want a steak and a bottle of bourbon”. It was then that I had realized that his hunger stemmed not from his gut; rather from his soul, and that his desires, much like my own, were left starving.

Generations of parents have wanted more for their children than they had for themselves, and without these inborn desires we would not have automatic washing machines, automobiles and indoor toilet facilities. The days of ration books and scarce food supplies has been replaced by the abundance of genetically altered plants and cattle that afford most of us a basic meal to nourish our bodies. We live in a plentiful world that affords us the opportunities to decide where to live, how many children to produce, and what careers we want to work in. Certainly you’d believe that we’d be far happier than our parents before us, but surprisingly, we’re not. For all we have attained, we still continue to search for better ways to fill an empty chasm with things money can’t buy and we teach our children to value material goods by our actions.

Christina Onassis (1) spent her entire charmed life looking for answers. Born the daughter of shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, she touted a tax free income of one million dollars a week. This budget allowed her to indulge her tastes in the finer things life had to offer. Despite living in Switzerland, if a fresh diet coke was her fancy, she simply contacted her private jet and instructed them to obtain ten cases at $3,000 a case from the American bottling company. The finest clothing, jewelry and furs were but a phone call away and every eligible suitor from near and far called on her hoping to be her next husband. None of these facts ever enabled her to have the things she wanted; an honest and true enduring love. It was this sad legacy she passed onto her only child.

Most people believe that if they only had “just one more thing” that their life would be better and they would be happier. I often cross the border of personal space by asking strangers; “What would you do with a million dollars?” Not surprising are the answers I get from them; “I’d buy myself a yacht and travel the world”, one elderly man explained to me. One woman told me, “I’d buy myself a cottage and have a little vegetable garden”. Every answer seemed to point towards the “me” and none of the answers seemed to point to personal fulfillment. Certainly with such a large sum of money one would believe that even a minute portion of this fortune could be spent on someone less fortunate, but no one ever seems to consider that until I bring it to their attention. Money is simply a tool that enables to us obtain the material things and necessities we desire, but each of us must condition ourselves to realize when enough is enough and learn to push away from the table of prosperity and turn our attention towards helping others.

The more we get, the more we seem to want. It’s not a fulfillment of a need; it’s a desire to obtain all that we believe we deserve. Desires compel us to excel and to make our lives better, but it seems that once we’ve obtained these goals, instead of feeling accomplished we continue to feel empty and void. Will a yacht to travel the world or a cottage by the lake ensure our happiness? Certainly not. But the challenge of getting there and the potential to fulfill the goal is what should excite and propel us to move forward. What we have to begin to learn as a society is not only to take pleasure in what we have accomplished, but in what more we can accomplish; to fill our emotional voids not with material possessions, but with morals and matters of the heart.

The “one more thing” we strive to achieve doesn’t come wrapped in a neat little box and no amount of money can secure its purchase. Mother Theresa once said, “Even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own” (2). In our desires to obtain “the next big thing” we have neglected our neighbors, our state, and our country. We fail to make time to visit the dying, to give the homeless a moment of our time and the lonely the gift of a visit. We continually assume that someone else will accept the responsibilities we fail to acknowledge and in doing so, we deprive only one person of a fulfilled life; ourselves.

Giving to others is the greatest joy we give to ourselves. In doing for others, we nourish the one thing our desires secretly wish to fulfill; our souls. Without this we merely live in a shell of existence. Adam Smith (3), perhaps best known for his published work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, believed that when people sought their own prosperity and growth their efforts would serves as an “invisible hand” that benefits all. Although his quote was regarded in terms of economic prosperity, the message speaks loudly to the soul’s prosperity as well. I once viewed a movie titled, Pay it Forward (4). In the story, a child’s social studies teacher gives his students the assignment of doing one thing to change the world around them. While most of the students came up with ideas on how to better the environment, one special student came up with a simple idea: Bestow one good deed on three people and ask them to do the same for someone in return. If we can devise ways to improve the quantity and quality of the foods we eat, why can we not devise ways to improve the moral lives we lead? Perhaps in the simple act of taking time out of our busy lives to better someone else’s by a basic kind human gesture we will find the means of fulfilling our greatest desires and make our world a better place for the next generation.

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