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.
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Dear Greg, thank you for sharing. It is touching me much. “Being grateful for what I have isn’t so I can get more, it’s so I never forget that less really is more.” Yes, and thank you for this.
Thank you for your beautiful, inspirational piece. Thank you for leading many of us with your words of instrumental wisdom. Thank you for being the leader and mentor that you are. “In my garden, I shall plant peace.” ~ D Marie von Hazmburg
Today’s Word for the Day reminded me of your beautiful prose piece. You followed your passion and were guided by your light and as LIly and you remind us choose to live the light we each have!!
I followed my passion and was guided by the light inside of me. That light does not belong to me alone. It is innate in all of us. Everyone has it. But more often than not, we choose not to see it.
Thanks so much, Greg!
For your clarity is reflecting on how you felt looking out from your father’s car at the man looking for help, when the traffic light turned to green. Yes, with your insight, we know you have seen that man again and again in your life, as we also have seen him.
Thank you, for shedding light on our need to be grateful, and to give when we have ” seen ” those in need.
My life is honored to be living on this earth while you do. You speak words that nourish, guide, and challenge. Your vision reminds me :
Life is always creating opportunities for us to respond to with new eyes.
To live out the question, “ how can I help”
I have seen his face in a thousand faces.
We are all one in our hopes, our dreams, our losses, our suffering.
Do not miss the moment.
being grateful for what I have isn’t so I can get more, ……but so I can give more. Thank you for this reminder…..
Thank you for your story and reflection here. I grew up in the projects of South Boston in the 1950’s. Back then, “Southie,” as it’s called by Bostonian’s, was whiter than white, yet still, alcohol abuse was rampant among the Irish American community, which pretty much was the sum-total of South Boston back then.
I too once had some change in my pocket, and I was with my soon-to-be stepfather coming out of a store. I saw a man sitting on the side of the building with a note and his upturned hat on the sidewalk hoping passerbys would drop in some coins. I walked over to the man, deposited 50 cents into his hat, said, “Hi,” and walked away. As we got into our car to drive away from the curb, I watched the man stand up, jingle and grab the change in his hat, and saw him walk into the tavern next door.
My soon-to-be stepdad and I talked all the way home about what had just happened. During my 40 years plus of working with challenged children and teens, and helping each of them as way opened, I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned back then on that street. Still, I give whenever asked or whenever I see a need unmet, Sure, from time to time I know I’ve been conned, too, but it’s still about the giving, wherever possible, and always without regrets, even though I try to make that 50 cents stretch as far as it can.
Thank you for sharing a simple, yet so inspiring story which gives all of us a similar oppurtunity like this to experience, since we can see people from the streets.
And I am
also grateful for you being a survivor and got leveled up from the surrounding you came from. That is inspiring.
Greetings from Serbia,