I don’t talk about my past very much on this blog for lots of reasons, mostly because it’s not all that tied to what I do now, and there tends to be a group who look down on me for my religious work, etc. and also because I don’t really like being seen as prideful or self-aggrandizing. Promoting my work is a business responsibility that’s necessary, but promoting my personal life and such is not.
Then I rewatched the wonderful movie Blindside starring Sandra Bullock when it ran on cable, and I was reminded by that movie of values that have infused my life and that of my family and very much shape how I live and everything I do. I’m not talking about the fact that main characters in the movie are Christians like myself and my family. Nor am I talking about their rural background, although we do have both those things in common. Instead, I am referring to a concept I define as “learning to live WITH people, not just around them.”
For those unfamiliar with it, The Blind Side is the true story of a wealthy Tennessee couple who discovered a black kid from the inner city was attending their children’s private school but was homeless. As they discover him and bits and pieces about his situation, they take it upon themselves to offer help. At first, taking him in to their home for a night or two, and then eventually permanently, raising him like one of their own. They even become his legal guardians. The experience changes not just the inner city kid, Michael Oher, but also their own two children and themselves. Michael goes on to become a huge football star in high school, then college and finally is drafted into the NFL. It’s a well-acted, well written, heart-warming tale of people reaching out beyond the box in which they live and choosing to help someone else because they can, and, in the end, making a better life for all of them and their community.
The reason I call this “learning to live WITH people, not just around them,” is because most of us find it very easy to live in our own little box, worry about our own concerns and people, and not pay much attention to what’s going on beyond us. Every once in a while a tragedy or some drama occurs that calls our attention to it, but for most of us, we can go around blissfully unaware of the needs of people around us most of the time. I have had this tendency at times in my life, but then I remember how I was raised. I was raised by people who paid attention and took action, and so I jump back in when I can without hesitation. It’s a lifestyle that becomes more and more second nature to me.
I get this because of several key people. My Grandma Schmidt has been described often as the type of woman who never knew a stranger, the kind who when someone in need showed up, would drop whatever she was doing, wherever she was to help. If food got cold or her family of 7 had to wait longer to eat, it didn’t matter. If she was late to an appointment, people would have to understand. To her, this was God’s business and what she was put on Earth for and there wasn’t even a question or hesitation: she had to try and help.
My other grandmothers were also very much like this. From teaching to taking in exchange students, to feeding neighbors, helping children and more. My father is a doctor who always cared more about healing people than getting bills paid, so much so that he once fired an office manager for being too harsh about collections, and he freely donates his time, money and effort to helping others despite his busy schedule and career demands.
I could name dozens of other examples in my family but suffice it to say I grew up with people who taught me: we are put here on this Earth to help and love one another, to do whatever we can for them no matter what race, religion, politics, etc. they might have. You might be poor, but you can always give time or talents. And it was an expectation that if you were in my family, this was how you’d live.
To me, the couple in The Blind Side, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy embody these values, and they demonstrated in gloriously when they took in Michael Oher. Were they perfect? No. And they were more blessed with wealth than most, but more importantly, they didn’t just say they cared with money, they lived it with their actions and daily lives. That’s the kind of people who raised me, and it’s always the kind of person I’ve wanted and tried to be. I don’t always succeed, of course. None of us are perfect. And sometimes it has cost me trying — such as shunning a career path so I could stay freelance in order to get time off to travel to various places and help people as much as I could. By the time I settled down and got married, I’ve had a lot of financial struggles to overcome time and again, I have no kids as I’ve always dreamed I would, etc. In many ways, I seem far behind my peers, and yet, by going to Africa, Brazil, Mexico and other places and teaching, I’ve gotten a kind of wealth money can never provide and enjoyed a kind of satisfaction no other success can create.
When I got into science fiction, I tried to write stories that reflect these values, and as an editor, I try to employ them in not only who I invite but the stories I buy and the subject matters I pursue. I don’t do it perfectly, but I make a concerted effort, and I’ve been rewarded by developing friendships, creative partnerships and working relationships with some of my writing and editing heroes, and making some books that got great reviews and touched people. I’m pretty much a live and let live guy, in that I don’t care about your religion, philosophy, politics, sexual orientation, race, etc. If you’re a decent person, we’ll get along. I publish stories that often differ from my personal beliefs and practices, but as long as they are good stories, I choose them because I want my books to reflect the larger community they are intended to serve, and that means reaching beyond what I know and am comfortable with.
Why am I writing all this? I guess it’s to encourage others to cover the blind side of other people, too. There’s no one way to do it, but there are many needs. You don’t have to be rich or powerful, famous or even creative, all you need is time and a willing heart, and also a willingness to be uncomfortable for the sake of helping others be more comfortable and lead better lives. You might take weekends to go help a single mom on her farm, as I did this summer, or to tutor inner city kids, help build or rebuild a house, or do any number of other things. Some you’ll be good at, some you won’t (like me and farming). But it’s not about skill as much as it is effort anyway. And the effort is never wasted, no matter the results.
The best experiences in my life and career have come from these experiences, and the most precious relationships as well. People from all walks of life and cultures who are friends because we spent time together, not because of what we were doing or what we accomplished. Oh, good things were accomplished, don’t get me wrong, but success is not the primary goal, being there is. And in the process, you’ll learn new skills and new points of view, and have new experiences that infuse your life with so much richness you can’t even imagine. Try it, if you don’t believe me.
So my point in writing this is to say, be a blindsider, not a sideliner. Take time to live WITH people around you, not just walk among them doing your own thing. It won’t just make their lives better, it’ll make you a better and happier person. And it’ll give you opportunities to live in ways words can’t describe or even equal. More than waving a flag for a cause or putting money in a donation box, you’ll be actually changing the world for the better. And I promise you, that can be far more impactful than money or slogans or any amount of campaigning ever will.
For what it’s worth…