For The Heart

House

When embarking upon this journey across America on foot, it was reasonable to believe that we would see and experience a lot, both good and bad.  We have done just that, and when you think about it in the grand scheme of things, we are just getting started.

This walk has allowed us to look around, and we do just that, with a purpose.  As we walk, we look at the businesses in each town up close.  We look in the windows.  Many of them are simply out of business.  We look at the homes and yards as we walk through residential areas.  We look at the people, the kids, and quite frankly the junk and squalor that is laying around.  It has truly been an eye opener.

The one thing that truly stands out is the amount of poverty that exists in our country.  I’m a numbers guy, so I know that we have only walked approximately 600 miles or so, and have made our way through only a few dozen of the thousands of towns in America.  However, it is also apparent, that the similarity in the 36 or so towns is too great to be considered a coincidence.

Town after town seem to be forgotten, or using the old political line, left behind.  There are boarded up store fronts, depressed areas, homes that look like they have been abandoned (but haven’t), and jobless/homeless people, almost too many to count.  In a word, it’s sad.  I could offer my opinion on why this is so, but really, what do I know?  What do any of us know?  There are so many factors, so many forces at work.  Yes, we could demand more from our politicians to come up with solutions, and we should.  But then again, what do they do right?  But let’s not go there, let’s talk about what we could do as American citizens who have hearts.

Stop for a minute and look in your closet.  Do you have more clothes than you will ever need or use?  I know I do.  Take a moment to think about those out in the streets that have nothing for themselves or their children.  Then stop and look in your pantry or cupboards.  When you get hungry, it is so simple to grab something to eat and in many cases, be able to choose from five or ten different snacks, right?  Then think of those who have no idea where their next morsel of food is going to come from.

Now, tell me the last time you felt thankful and blessed to have an ample supply of food (other than Thanksgiving), running water, or even a roof over your head.  The point is, in our busy hectic lives, we take a lot for granted.  Sure, anyone who has those things has worked hard for them and most likely has earned them.  People shouldn’t feel guilty about it, just fortunate and grateful.

Now think of what it would be like to live without those things.  Imagine looking your kids in the eye when they are hungry, and telling them there is no food.  Or when they are cold and telling them there is no heat or extra clothes or blankets.  I’m telling you poverty is running rampant in this country.  It’s more widespread than you can imagine.  The question then becomes, what can we do about it?  I say, do something from the heart, for the heart.  Let me explain.

As Thanksgiving drew closer, Kate and I knowing that we would be away from our family for the first time, talked about what we were going to do for the holiday.  It was a strange feeling for sure, and a bit sad.  She quickly came up with the idea to locate a food bank or homeless shelter where we could volunteer our time.  Her parents did this often in the city of Detroit, and certainly, there must be one of these types of places in the small 5,000-person town of Holbrook, Arizona.  That proved to be the case.

Earlier that week we were curious where the road outside our RV park went.  We are always looking for a better walking route and do a lot of scouting in our car prior to the next day’s walk.  Wouldn’t you know it, no more than a half mile down that road was the Bread of Life Mission.  We immediately stopped in and asked if we could volunteer to serve meals on Thanksgiving to those in need.  The answer we received was an enthusiastic yes.

The next day, we had the idea (I’ll take credit for this one) to see if they needed anything for the meal.  Kate stopped into the mission, and was surprised to find out that they didn’t have some of the standard Thanksgiving meal fixings, gravy is one example.  They also didn’t have pumpkin pie or soft drinks.  What is Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie?  Kate took the list and went to shop at the local grocery store.  She acquired a store discount card to get the best bang for the buck.  We did have a budget after all.

We arrived at the Mission early on Thanksgiving morning to help set up and were greeted by warm and friendly faces.  This includes the staff working there, and the folks that either call the place home or were there simply for a good home cooked meal, something they rarely get.  Everyone was thankful that we came to help.  It really was an amazing feeling.

The meal was a success.  There was plenty of food, and even some leftovers to serve for dinner that night.  Hunger doesn’t stop with one Thanksgiving meal.  This mission provides meals any time during the day, 365 days a year, and even delivers to folks who don’t have the ability or means to get to their building.  Other than the deliveries, their rule is come when you want and eat, you just have to eat here.

I took this for granted initially, then thought about what is involved to continually feed dozens of people each day.  They need food of course, appliances, kitchen utensils, someone to cook and someone to clean up.  Obviously, they also need funding.  It’s not magic.  Behind the scenes there are so many people doing a lot of great work to make sure underprivileged folks can get a nutritious meal.  It is amazing when you really think about how it all comes together.

As I said, the Mission does great work and provides all types of support and services.  I must honestly say, we were humbled and touched.  So much so, that above and beyond the groceries we bought and the time we spent helping, we made a monetary donation to help with other needs they may have.  I’m not looking for an at a boy, or a medal, but simply conveying the warm feeling you get when you help others.

I have spent many of my years on this earth taking for granted all that my family has had.  Sure, we struggled at times.  When we were just starting out money was tight, and we were trying to raise a family.  However, when you look at those without, whether it be food, shelter, or clothing, it wasn’t a struggle at all.  After all, we still had shelter, enough clothes to be somewhat fashionable and warm, and enough food to prevent ever thinking of going hungry.

At the end of the day, it takes money and people to make a place like the Mission function.  The Executive Director of the Mission told me that some of their funding has been appropriated to areas with larger populations (primarily Phoenix).  In some ways that makes sense, however, it leaves so many others in the cold, literally, who live in rural towns across the state, and who are attempting to serve those in need in their own communities.  Poverty isn’t just in the metropolitan areas after all, as I said, it is everywhere, in every state.

Places like the Bread of Life Mission exist in our own home towns.  You may not realize it at first.  You, like myself, probably drove past some of these places everyday to and from work.  When you peel back the onion, you will find that there are good people either working for peanuts or volunteering at these types of places to help others in need, right in your own backyards.  Perhaps, those good people are some of your friends or neighbors.  The key is, when you see one of these places, stop in and ask what you can do to help.  They won’t be shy.  Get involved and help.

To go along with that last thought, here’s my idea; there are approximately 350,000,000 people in this country.  Let’s say that 35,000,000 people have the capacity, both physically and financially to help.  That’s only 10% of the population.  What if every one of those 35,000.000 did what I suggested above and stopped in and asked what they could do to help, and not just on Thanksgiving, but throughout the year?  Imagine what could be done.  I’ve added some ideas of how to help below.

Here is what is currently happening.  Some people do nothing.  They live their lives and spend their money, heck they earned it.  They buy more clothes than they need, and shower their kids (guilty) and grand kids with tons of “things”.  I think spoiled is the word.  All is good, for them.  Of the people that can help, some do what I am suggesting above.  Others go online and get their credit card out and donate to the organization of their choice.  There is no wrong answer, it is individual preference, I just ask to think about where your money is going and what good it is doing.  In other words, how much of your donation is actually getting to those who need it?

If you want to have the greatest impact, the first thing I would recommend is to determine what it is you can give.  This includes both time and money.  Secondly, determine where you want your money to go.  My personal preference is to give within our own local communities, to the organizations that do the most good, like the one I described above.  Sure, the larger national or international organizations do some good work, but if you take a moment to look at their annual report, you might find that a good portion of their spending goes to high administrative and promotional costs as well as salaries for the executives that can be extravagant. I myself shy away from those.

What I am asking you to do, is to stop and think about all of this for a moment.  Think about what it would be like to be hungry 24/7.  Think about all the children who have nothing, no food, little clothing or toys, and perhaps no shelter.  Then think if it is something you can turn your back to.  We couldn’t, whether it be a kid, a homeless older person, or even a stray puppy.  All of god’s creatures need a little help now and then, and we have the ability right now to do just that.  We just happened to see it right in front of our own eyes.  That is what truly makes the most impact on a good-natured heart.  When you see it firsthand, you immediately want to help.  It doesn’t have to be that way however.  We can be proactive!

If you do decide to follow my advice, I promise you one thing, you won’t regret it.  Helping others in need is one of the best feelings a human can experience, and the Thanksgiving meal is one experience that we will never forget.  We will do our best to continue to help when and where we can as we continue this walk, and will pass this message on to as many people as possible.

I have one more request, please share any additional ideas that can be added to the ones below, so this forum can be a resource for all.  Lastly, if you feel so inclined, share your own personal story of giving.  We would love to experience them with you.

Ways to help:

  • Go to your local retailer after any holiday and buy their sale items (food items, clothing, etc.) that are often 70 to 90% off. Then take them right over to your local shelter/church/mission.
  • Buy grocery store gift cards to donate. The shelters can use them for what they need.
  • Buy the 10 for $10 sales that you see in many grocery stores these days and donate them.
  • Find gently used items around your home and bring donate them.
  • Volunteer your time. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and who knows, you may have a skillset that is in need.  It also may be a menial task that provides a ton of help.  Find the time.
  • Talk to others and do some of this stuff as a group. It may add some fun to the gratification you will receive by helping others in need.
  • Google is a great resource to find places near you that provide the types of assistance mentioned above.
  • Monetary donations are always welcomed. $10, $20, $50, $100, whatever you can afford to give.

Great Country, Great People

Campfire

We were looking forward to a lot of things before embarking on this journey across America.  First and foremost, was spreading our message to get out and get moving.  Our mission is to inspire and educate folks on ways to lead a more heart healthy lifestyle, and we are working on that everyday.

Secondly, we wanted to see the country up close.  That means the beautiful landscape, the small towns, the tourist traps (including the largest ball of twine…just kidding of course), and especially the people.  We were curious to learn more about the different cultures that are spread across this great country.  All of this is a work in progress as we have only completed roughly 15% of our journey.

What stands out most to me, is the friendliness of the people that we have met.  This includes the locals, as well as those travelling, whether on vacation or to escape the winter from the great white north.  Everyone to a person, has been friendly and here are just a few examples of what we have witnessed:

While walking through Prescott, I came to a busy intersection and I witnessed something that I don’t believe I would have seen back home.  A man’s truck (yes, most everyone drives pick-ups out here) broke down and he was pushing it slowly uphill towards the traffic light.  From two separate cars stopped at the intersection, two people jumped out and helped this guy push his truck.  Of course, I was on my way to assist when I saw they had it under control.  Really, I was.

We have met a bunch of people, transients for a lack of a better term, here at our current campground in Camp Verde, AZ.  They have a community fire pit and Kate has been longing for a fire since we left Michigan back in mid September.  Camping and camp fires go hand in hand, i guess that’s why the word “camp” is in both, and Kate loves camp fires.

The first night here, upon finding the fire pit and the conveniently chopped stack of fire wood (courtesy of the campground, and complimentary I might add), Kate was on a mission to have that fire she had been longing for.  Many of the places we have been thus far did not allow camp fires, as it has been so dry out west and the risk for those large out of control fires was extremely high.  This was the case throughout California and the desert region.

Alas, Kate was in her glory and the fire soon drew a crowd, something else she had been longing for.  Two months on the road with me is enough for anyone to seek out the company of others.  We were amazed that within a few minutes of the sparks hitting the air, that we had a nice gathering of folks and a chance to interact with people other than ourselves.

It was interesting to find out that most of the people were from the Midwest.  We had the northern Midwest virtually covered.  Michigan of course, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were represented.  We also met a new friend from Alaska.  The cold weather states were well represented.

The stories and conversation never stopped and what was interesting to me is that everyone has one, a story that is.  The young lady from Alaska for example, is a true inspiration.  She had two strokes and a heart attack, and a real cool outlook on life.  Another lady has a grandson that has had 7 heart surgeries before the age of 20.  In all honesty, it made my issues seem small and insignificant, yet they showed compassion when hearing my story.

The stories continued with accounts of abuse, divorce, disorders, you name it.  People opened up about their pasts, and we grew to have a great respect for one another.  It was a very comfortable conversation, except for the brief moment when one man said, “I assume we are all liberals here”.  Barb, a smart lady from Wisconsin, quickly changed the subject after I engaged.  If you know me, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut about politics.  I’m working on it however, and quickly recognized and respected Barb’s ploy.

The friendliness was not confined to just the night around the fire, but rather on many other interactions we have had thus far.  The waitress and manager at the local steakhouse who shook my hand and told me to keep up the good work, after we told them about our mission, and the fact that we walked 18 miles that day for a good steak.  The homeless people we met in Blythe, CA.  One man in particular stands out.  Even with all the challenges he is facing, he engaged with us in conversation, and could not thank us enough for the meal we had brought him (which come to find out, he shared with a fellow person down on their luck).

We have walked through some pretty poor areas.  Places where the temperatures are commonly over 100 degrees and the homes, trailers, and yes shacks make you wonder how people survive the heat.  We have walked down residential streets where folks were out in their yards, or sitting on their porches.  Virtually everyone offered a friendly wave or said hello.  By the looks of things, these folks were living in abject poverty and most likely didn’t have two nickles to rub together, yet that didn’t seem to bother them.

It was also nice to see the animal friendly people we met in Blythe.  These two folks, one cat lover and one dog lover, hung out in a truly depressed part of town and took care of the strays.  It was heartwarming to see people caring for god’s creatures that didn’t have anyone else to provide them food and shelter.

All in all, anyone and everyone we have come in contact with has been friendly, and also supportive in the instances where we shared our story.  This trip has been an eye opener in many ways and what I had hoped I would find, that this country is still filled with good people no matter what you read in the headlines, has truly been the case.  Most Americans have big hearts, and are good people.  That is one thing that makes this country great, and I hope that never changes.

I can’t wait to continue to learn more as we move into states like New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and beyond.  My guess is we will see different cultures, and the goodness in people, no matter where we go and what their situation, will still exist and shine a light on our journey.

Until then, keep moving friends.  Remove the excuses and obstacles and get out and move.  You never know who you might meet along the way that will inspire you,  or simply make you smile, and perhaps, become someone that you can call “friend”.  We never can have enough of those, at least that’s the way I see it.

Cheers,

Chuck

 

 

What It’s All About

Beyond Hope

When we were planning this journey across America, one thing I was looking forward to was the time I would have to reflect.  I realized there would be countless hours with just me and my thoughts, as scary as that may sound, and it would bring the opportunity to put things in perspective.  Finally, with all of life’s stressors in the background, I would truly have a chance to figure out what’s important in life.  Heck, I might even find answers to the questions that have plagued mankind for centuries.  You know, why are we here, and what is it all about?

While I am still working on those age-old questions, I have been able to navigate through the cobwebs leading to my brain, as well as wade through the dead brain cells that are the residue of decades of a continuous stream of beer.  I think I made it all the way to my brain matter, as if that matters, and had a chance to really reflect on my life.  It is still a work in progress, however, it is amazing how clearly you can think when all the distractions are out of the way.  Well most of them anyways, there are the cars and trucks whizzing by, and the threat of coyotes and rattle snakes with every step after all, but you can’t have everything, can you?

At the age of 56, I have more mileage behind me than in front of me.  Well, maybe not from a walking standpoint, but most likely from a time point of view.  At least I doubt I will make it to 112.  With that in mind, I realized that I lived a life similar to most others.  Part of that reality is what I want to change.

In my 20’s 30’s and 40’s, the primary goal was to provide for my family.  That meant going to work each day, fighting traffic, and putting up with the demands of customers and bosses.  Much of it was truly BS, but we do what we have to do to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads.  It’s considered normal and hum drum, and most people complain about it.  That is, they truly aren’t completely happy with their lives, or for that matter, fulfilled.  I was no different.

I was lucky in some ways in that I had a level of freedom with my jobs that many desk type jobs don’t have.  I never had to punch a clock, nor was tied to a desk.  My jobs allowed me, for the most part, to attend the kids, and now grand kids functions, whether it be sporting events or school concerts.  That is truly something that cannot be replaced in my mind.  What I have realized, is that it’s the memories, and the time I’ve spent with loved ones that truly stands out on this journey through Chuck’s surviving brain cells.

Life changed for me in a heartbeat however.  At age 54, health issues that I never expected slammed into me like a ton of bricks.  These are the types of health issues that prevent people from fulfilling many of their dreams that are so easy to put off.  Heart attacks take the lives of folks in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond, before people ever really start living.  What I mean by that, is so many people with all sorts of dreams about life after work and after most of life’s responsibilities have ended, are struck down before they can live out their dreams.

I was lucky, diagnosed and treated in time and given a second chance.  For me the choice was clear.  I would now plan to live, as Frank Sinatra once said, my way.  Sure, I’m only 56 now, and in order to live in today’s world, I will have to find a way to make a living.  Living today isn’t cheap, and there is the reality of paying for healthcare, food, shelter, etc., but for now, at least for the next 6 months as we trudge across this great nation, I am going to do it my way.  I am going to enjoy the journey, stop the worrying, and enjoy all that this country and its people has to offer.

That can be hard for me in some ways, as the old habits of dwelling on problems and letting the small stuff bring me down still pop up from time to time.  Still, I am working everyday to find the joys that life has to offer.  Hey, maybe that is what it is all about.  It most likely is different for each and every one of us, but maybe getting joy out of life should be our primary goal.  Maybe it is fulling a dream, or helping others (finding your purpose), or simply having fun.  It really doesn’t matter as long as you have identified that for yourself and you are experiencing it each and everyday.

We have a long way to go until we get to Myrtle beach, and a lot more time to ponder life, but I can tell you this, I am going to enjoy each and every step, even the ones that aren’t very comfortable.  There is a big world out there, and I want to see it up close.

When my  story is finally written, I want there to be few regrets.  I want the people who meant so much to me over the years to know exactly that.  I want to have accomplished something significant in this world, something that has meaning.  We have targeted that “something” that has meaning in my life right now.  It is what nearly took me out, heart disease, and with the help of the world’s best wife, no offense to the other wives out there, we are making progress one town at a time, one step at a time, and one interaction at a time.  After this journey is said and done, who knows what is next, but I can tell you this, we are going to figure it out and go for it.

You see, what I have found out so far, and it is early  in the process, is that there is a life to live.  Not how someone else wants you to live, or what anyone else, including society thinks you should do, but what you want and think you should do, what fulfills you.

More to come as I continue to find these answers, but I hope each and everyone that reads this finds their own happiness and fulfillment.  Maybe all it will take is some dedicated time to think about it all.  I would highly recommend finding a distraction free way to reflect.  It will be well worth it, because the way I see it, none of us are beyond hope!

Cheers,

Chuck