You either get the reference or you don’t. There was a movie called ‘About Schmidt’ that starred Jack Nicholson, in which he played a retired/widowed man who goes on a journey to visit his daughter, and attend her wedding. As per usual, Jack plays this character brilliantly. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the plot and spoiling it for whoever hasn’t seen it, Schmidt has an orphan in Africa that he sends money to. He occasionally sends a letter to this orphan chronicling his life over the last few weeks, how it’s falling apart, and other 1st world problems. It always starts in that classic Jack voice saying ‘Dear Ndugu’ which gets a laugh every time. It’s mostly the editing, and how they drop it in that makes it funny, so if you don’t get it, don’t worry, you had to be there.
Is this a movie review? No. Just a lead in. Something that’s been on my mind lately is that I happen to support a child in Africa as well. (We’ll use the name Ndugu to protect the innocent.) I never talked about it much. If I were to bring it up, it would seem like I was fishing for compliments. I feel a little strange about it to be honest. The main reason I did it is because when I worked downtown, I walked past people who worked for this organization pretty much every day. It seemed like a good campaign, and I respected the people out there every day trying to get people to sign up, but at the end of the day, I just wanted a coffee, not another commitment. I walked past them for a year. I never stopped to talk. I just kept it moving and avoided eye contact. They were always smiling and upbeat. They took rejection very well. One day I succumbed to their charms. I stopped and listened. They started telling me about all the horrible shit happening in certain parts of the world. This is information that I typically avoid, because it makes me feel shitty, and there’s not much I can do to change it. This guy asked how much my coffee cost me. Then he did the whole, ‘for less than a cup of coffee a day……’ routine. I knew what it was. It was my turn to pay the tax. I don’t think I had done enough for others up to this point. I’d always wanted to, but there was always a reason (good or bad) why I didn’t. Here I was. In a fortunate enough position that I could probably afford it. What was I buying when I pulled out my Visa? I was buying a feeling. A feeling that I had done something good. It wasn’t as much about medication or clean water (although I hoped my cup of coffee a day would buy lots of that for somebody), but like a lot of people whether they like to admit it or not, I was paying money to lessen the guilt that I feel for being fortunate in life.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. My wife comes into the room with an envelope from the organization that handles this arrangement. She asks if I’m ever going to open any of these envelopes. I usually don’t. I give the money so I don’t have to think about it. I don’t want to know about some other part of the world that needs help, or read the heartbreaking statistics of the area in South Sudan where the child I support is, or that they really encourage us to write letters to the children we support, and how much that means to them. Am I not stressed out enough by my own life?
She opens the envelope. Sigh!
Did you know? Girls in the South Sudan are twice as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as they are to finish primary school? 45% of people do not have clean drinking water? Many children die of preventable diseases like diarrhea!! Awful.
The envelope also contains a postcard. Another reminder that I should just be a man and write a letter. It’s not that I couldn’t, or don’t have the time, but it signifies a further emotional committment that I don’t know if I want to make. My wife reminds me that I “write a blog for god’s sake, so it’s not like you don’t know how to write!” How hard can it be? My dad used to write me postcards all the time. Everywhere he went, he’d buy a postcard and write to me. Probably just so I could see a picture of where he was at. They were short and sweet. He did this, he saw that, doing this tomorrow, see you soon, Love Dad. I could do that! What would I say though? That a kid suffering through poverty would want to hear? Should I talk about how excited I got when I found this awesome Belgian beer at the Liquor store that I’ve been searching for ages for? Should I talk about the awesome meals I’ve had recently? How living in an air-conditioned building, and driving a car are awesome? They don’t want to hear that!!!
How about how just about every moment in my life that I complain about, would potentially be one of the most amazing moments in their life?
Then like a ton of bricks, it hit me. It brought me perspective that I hope I am able to carry with me every day for the rest of my life. It’s helped me at home, at work, and everywhere in between. I realized that my life IS amazing. I remind myself of this when I start complaining about dumb things. Am I starving? Do I have clean water? Yes? Then perhaps this lineup I’m standing in isn’t so bad, right?? I’ve been preaching this to anyone that will (or has to) listen. What did you complain about today? Something inconvenienced you? Would Ndugu think it was inconvenient? No?? Then you probably shouldn’t either. Strangely, this is making me a happier person. I do feel guilty that I now constantly have to reference Ndugu to remind me how none of my problems are really all that problematic at the end of the day. Not compared to what Ndugu goes through. Every moment of my life that I’m fortunate to have is an absolute blessing.
Ndugu has provided perspective for me. I will thank Ndugu with a postcard that reads like this……..
Greetings from Canada! I hope this letter finds you well. I want you to know that your life, both triumphs and struggles, are an inspiration to us here. We are wishing you the best, and cheering you on in all of your pursuits. You will be in our thoughts and prayers always.
Be good :)
Your Canadian Family!!