I went to dinner at an old friend's house. I'd known her and her man since high school but hadn't spent a whole lot of time with them. The evening wrapped up, she took me aside and gave me an envelope. Inside was some amount of cash I've forgotten. It wasn't a lot, but I remember the feeling clearly. Hope washed over me like the first warm breeze of summer. I literally felt my shoulders lighten. I could breathe. Really breathe, for the first time in months. I can't describe it vividly enough - it was like I'd been drowning and hadn't realized it. Then all the sudden I surfaced and took a deep glorious breath of air. It was so strong, I'll never forget it.
I lived in that moment for weeks, months even. You might think that it came from knowing someone cared about me, and that I wasn't alone. That was only part of it. The air came from someone seeing me and my situation and DOING something about it. They didn't just give me comforting words, they took action. They followed through where so many others had made empty promises. Words only go so far, it's what you DO that lives on, that makes a difference. It's what you do that changes thing around you I haven't seen them since, but they changed my life. They helped me see the promise life still held, they gave me hope.
As I watched the video I shared above traces of that same feeling seemed to flow through the air. Benjamin Zander talks about his experiences with world-weary students, the negative attitudes, and the downward spiral of self doubt and criticism. How those things can crush even the most talented spirit. He gives them an assignment to re-define themselves and then he SEES those students become what they wrote. He sees them as they will be, not as they are, then helps them become the musician they wrote they'd be.
The thread that connects these two stories are hope and action. We talk, we tweet, we complain. We see desperate situations and offer kind words because they are never in short supply. What is in short supply is people who DO. Who GO help a friend move. Who volunteer at a shelter or for Habitat. Who get their hands dirty. My friends didn't give me much money, but it was enough to lift a burden. What would happen if we lived to give hope? What would happen if we made a habit of never missing an opportunity to demonstrate that humanity isn't a race, but the one thing we all have in common?
I don't get the opportunity to pay forward what my friends did for me nearly enough as I want to. I sponsor a child in Peru through Compassion International, I give to charities, I walk in marches for the homeless - all third party actions but still actions that reach individuals. And I never pass up the chance to be there when a friend is in need.
So I'll end this by challenging you to take action to give hope. You may never have experienced a first breath like I did, but millions of others have. If you know what I'm talking about, you'll know it never leaves you. So don't talk, do. You could be helping someone breathe.