My origin story begins in an under-resourced environment riddled with social challenges such as poverty, gun violence, drug abuse and at times death. The 1980’s were not kind to many inner-city neighborhoods, as police cracked down on prostitution, drug trafficking and other symptoms of drug addiction and poverty, especially in Philadelphia where I grew up. Terms like “grateful living” were for privileged ears and were not embedded in the vocabulary of friends, family or even my peers. Looking back, I am able to recognize that there was indeed a throughline of gratitude and gratefulness in my upbringing, we just never called it that. I had a much more intuitive relationship with these principles and they became a function of my childhood in practice more than in theory. Let me explain.
I learned to view my community as a patchwork of potential in which innovation and imagination created opportunities for me to be resourceful, creative and generous.
Because the next day was not promised, I learned to cherish every moment. Because we lived in an environment with high levels of pollution, I learned to cherish every breath. Because many households didn’t have two parents, I learned to cherish my mom and dad. Because many of my peers got into daily fights, I learned to cherish my inner peace. Because I witnessed family members getting locked up, I learned to cherish my freedom. In this way, I learned to view my community as a patchwork of potential in which innovation and imagination created opportunities for me to be resourceful, creative and generous.
There were two locations in which I found safety and shelter: the house I lived in, where my parents created a home; and in the car, riding with my father. His conversations transformed the car into a classroom, and he shared his wisdom with me through stories and the books he read. On one particular car ride with my father, I had an encounter with the world outside my front door in a way I had never experienced before.
The loudest question in my head was, “How can I help?”
We were riding through downtown Philadelphia and I saw a homeless man sitting in front of a church on the corner during rush hour. My 7-year old eyes were decorated with wonder and curiosity, and a slew of questions ran through my mind. The loudest question in my head was, “How can I help?”
My father sat in the driver seat as a red light paused our ride. He was a stern patriarch with a carpentry skill set and an entrepreneurial work ethic. He believed you received what you earned, the ultimate karmic law. My parents were both blue collar workers and decided to provide a weekly allowance if I completed my chores. Well, on this day I had ten dollars in my pocket that I had earned over the previous weeks. Again, that question came to my mind, “How can I help?”
The red light felt like an eternity. I noticed the sadness in the homeless man’s face, the disposition in his body as he slouched over the cane in his hand. “How can I help?” The voice in my head now getting louder. I don’t remember red lights being this long on Broad Street. The pressure mounting for me to do something; although I was not technically obligated to do so, I felt obligated to as a human being.
My thoughts raced incoherently on an invisible treadmill in my mind, “Should I get out the car and run this ten dollars over to him? I can make it. I have to ask for permission. Do I have to ask for permission? No, I can just do it! C’mon do it! You can help this man. You’ll get another ten dollars. WAIT! You have to ask for permission! I should ask, but what if he doesn’t agree?” As my hand went to open the door the light changed to green. The moment was missed.
It was at this moment that I learned something powerful: being grateful for what I have isn’t so I can get more, it’s so I never forget that less really is more.
That I know of, I did not see that man, on that street corner, in front of that church, with his hand on his cane ever again. However, I know I have seen his face in the faces of others almost everyday. It was at this moment that I learned something powerful: being grateful for what I have isn’t so I can get more, it’s so I never forget that less really is more. Truth be told, each time I see a ten dollar bill I’m reminded to cherish every single moment I am granted on this earth.
On a recent morning ride while driving my son to school, I was reminded of this story and the ride I took with my father, who has now transitioned. Looking in the rear view mirror, my son and I locked eyes. In his eyes I saw trust, safety, love and gratitude. He is my inspiration and my legacy. Moments like that are a constant reminder for me to embody gratefulness in the way I walk, talk, eat, think, commune, and approach my daily living.
Editor’s Note: We are excited to have Greg Corbin working with us as our Project Lead on a youth video story project entitled, Bright Lights, Young Lives. Stay tuned for some of his beautiful work coming to our website this fall.