Making a Difference in Other People’s Lives

Did you see the story? A man in his 80s stopped for gas on his way back home from Bible class in Detroit, Mich., and got mugged. It was not in the dark, but in a lighted area. He was not at a lonely stop, but there were a number of people who were pumping their gas watching it happen. They even have it on tape, and played it on the news.

The man crawled into the station, others walked by, some even stepped over his bloody body, but none of them reached out to help him. Even the clerk at the station did not quickly call the police.

I don’t want to put Detroit in a bad light; my father is from Detroit. I know things are bad all over, but this is really sad. The man lived, the police came, the car was recovered, but our innocence was lost forever.

I am reminded of a story of a 73-year-old man in Rochester, N.Y., who fell backwards into a trash can on his front porch on a Monday, and died there on Wednesday. In between, several people went by. One was a mailman and another was a papergirl. They both saw him wedged to the armpits, lower legs protruding from the rim of the galvanized barrel. The papergirl waved: the postman thought it looked “funny … but just let it pass.” The old man, evidently too feeble to get out or call for help, died.

Now I want to avoid the trap of, “If I’d been there …” But it seems to me the sight of an elderly gentleman, backside downward in a trash can, calls for some kind of action. Even if his voice doesn’t ask for assistance, his circumstances certainly do.

A youth, perhaps too full of life to comprehend the inability to help oneself, smiles and waves. An adult, too busy with the cares of his job to stop, simply moves on. A man in need dies needlessly.

It is important to know that these two in this case do not in any means represent the whole. My father was a postman for many years, and friends were postmen, and I believe if any thought that anyone was in danger in any way, that they would do anything they could to help them. This was an isolated case, but it did happen.

I was a paper boy for many years. It was my first business venture, a number of kids and my friends are or were paper boys and girls. My son was a paper delivery man. I believe that was an isolated case involving paper carriers, as well.

I don’t even think the two in the story realized what was going to happen. They did not recognize the moment. Does that still happen? People not recognizing the moments?

After all, what the elderly man wanted was not the paper girl or the mailman, but the garbage man. It occurs to me that, humanly speaking, that’s what all of us are called to be. Helpers one of another.

We go daily to a world of people who have stumbled into a trashcan of pain and sadness. They did not mean to get in so deeply that they couldn’t get back out, but that is how life happens sometimes. They are there dying in the stench of a place never meant for them, but they cannot get out on their own. Often, due to embarrassments or plain weakness or maybe even pride, some refuse to cry for help. Others don’t know to whom they should cry out.

Still, as people of kindness going about our daily business, we ought to be able to see that something is wrong, very wrong, and do what we can to help. We may not be able to help everybody, but hopefully we can help somebody, and make a difference in their life. I must say that the only one qualified to help us all is God, and God alone.

You may have heard the story of the young boy seen walking on a long stretch of a beach covered with starfish. The tide had washed the little creatures in and deposited them on the beach. When the tide went out, the starfish were left stranded on the beach and were dying slowly. An old man observed the boy as he stooped down, picked the starfish up one by one, and gently tossed them back into the sea.

“Young man,” he said, “look at all these starfish! There are thousands of them all up and down the beach! Do you really think you’re going to make a difference?” The boy stooped down, picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the ocean. “I made a difference to that one,” he said, and continuing walking.

For me, that’s what God has done in my life. He stooped down and touched me, and made a difference in my life. Now, I want to make a difference in other people’s lives. I may not be able to solve all the problems I encounter, but if I can help somebody along life’s way, my living will not be in vain.

Recently, I was blessed to visit the Dominican Republic and Haitian communities working in the sugar cane area. I was shocked at how some are living in this day and age. We did what we could for them. We passed out school supplies that we brought down to give away. We were happy to put a temporary smile on their face.

On the way back, I was reminded of how blessed we really are in the Ohio Valley and the United States. As we get ready for another Thanksgiving holiday, let’s take time to help as many as people as we can this year. Let us also have a spirit of thankfulness, because it could be worse.

Whatever you do for a living — doctor, lawyer, Indian chief –remember that everyone is part garbage man. Despite your occupation, your job is to help as many people as possible to discover the real joy of life, serving others for a common good. It is true not all that glitters is gold, and not everything in the trash can is garbage. Give someone a hand in getting out of the trash can, and help lift them up to a brand new life.

Guest columnist Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Temple in Weirton.

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