Giving thanks in dark places

So, this happened: I’m unemployed. My hard-won savings is draining like sand in an hourglass. It’s uncomfortable, just like any wait is. Growth hurts! And although I try to handle this with grace, I often fail. I whine. I get angry. I left an interview and got a “no thank you” form letter before I even pulled in my driveway. It’s easy to feel like it’s not fair. Why does life have to be like this, so… I don’t know? Dare I say it? Unfair. How does one maintain dignity under pressure? How do we wait patiently when panic gurgles in your throat?

There’s a homeless family that we’ve helped get life together. We’ve dropped off groceries and skillets, cups, towels and mattresses to the new home. We invited the boy to come play at our house, just down the road. He goes to my son’s school and they ride the bus together. They get along quite well, so it didn’t surprise me that the boys would want to come over and tear through the yard together.

When the boy’s eyes lit across the basketball hoop out front, one forgotten, more often than not, his whole face shone. Ma’am, he asked, can we play? Absolutely! My son, an only child, would love to have a boy his size to shoot hoops with! I smiled inwardly at our good deed, happy that I could make this boy’s day, but feeling a bit smug at the same time. I’m doing what we all should do: love everyone. If only the whole world were full of good people like me!

We pulled out the balls and the boy was exuberant. Almost a dozen balls of varying sizes were heaped in the bin. It’s not unlikely that this boy didn’t have a ball at his house. My son ran over to check out the bin, just as a few balls tumbled off the top of the stack and hit the ground with a fwaaaap.

That wasn’t right. Balls make that annoying ping-ping-ping noise when kids bounce them over and over and over and over and over. Two balls were so flat they looked like crumpled soda cans and were concave where they should’ve been robustly round. The third wouldn’t even bounce. The fourth, fifth and sixth were in varying conditions, both old and new, but provided a disappointing dribble.

I suddenly realized what had happened. When my son asked for a new ball, I bought it. Rather than pumping up the still-usable balls, we tossed them in a corner and used the new ball until it, too, lost it’s bounce. Twenty balls later, we still had not one ball that was serviceable.

The boy’s face fell and I felt foolish like never before. Here is a child who owns nary a toy and I come in, with my $200 stack of useless balls, thinking I could make a difference. I did make a difference, but not how I thought I would. I suddenly looked so greedy and ungrateful that my stomach turned. I promised to locate a ball pump, and even though I knew it had to be somewhere… a closet, maybe? I could not find one. A quick knock on the neighboring house’s door yielded neither a ball or a pump.

In the haste of my life, I failed to see the worth in my possessions. I forgot to maintain them, I felt like both a failure and a fool. No promises of locating a bike pump could turn this boy’s day around, he had been let down yet again. Attempting to buoy his spirits, I searched the entire house again before promising to buy a new pump, new ball, something, before he came over again. But the damper had fallen on the day and he sullenly kicked a few rocks before moving inside to watch tv.

I’m sure he looked at me and thought I was like everyone else: overpromising, under delivering, ungrateful and wasteful. Had consumerism soaked my bones that thoroughly? Had the concept of convenience rewired my brain to believe that little blessing that some take for granted- like a toy, weren’t worth the effort to refill with air?

The next morning, I got a pump and filled every single ball in the house. All two dozen of them, and made a quick promise to myself that I could be better than that. I could make a difference to someone, I could hold up my promise. I could be different. I could be grateful.

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