The lyrics, “It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you; it’s what you leave behind you when you go,” by Randy Travis have always grabbed my attention. However, an experience during high school is what brought those words to life and made me realize that they are truly words to live by.
During my senior year when our leadership class participated in the Oregon Food Bank’s Adopt-A-Family Program, we were told that that year’s family was special. The youngest daughter wouldn’t speak to anyone, because she witnessed her father abusing her mother, and when the father moved out he left them with little food and clothing, only one mattress for all five of them to sleep on, and no Christmas tree or presents. I decided to help by donating my bed and buying personalized gifts for the family members. For me, everything came full circle when we delivered the gifts. To my surprise, the mother began to cry as I brought in my bed. It was then I realized, for them, the bed was much more than a mattress held up by a few pieces of wood; it was a glimmer of hope for their future and a symbol of goodwill from their community. Then, when I went in to say goodbye, the youngest girl handed me a drawing of her family on Christmas day, and gave me a big hug. Human touch is a powerful thing, and that hug brought everything I did for them to a personal level. Looking back, that night was a perfect example of something that I will “leave behind me when I go.”
Through that experience, I found my philosophy on life. I believe that everyone receives their own set of obstacles that they must find a way to hurdle over. For that family it was dealing with an abusive father and learning how to live and sleep off very little. It would have been easy for that mother to give up, but her actions proved that she cared about her children’s future. She was willing to put her pride into the backseat and sign up for the Adopt-A-Family program. For that I admire her; it is easy for me to see that her actions during that holiday season are something she will “leave behind her when she goes.” A person’s character is not defined by their struggles; rather, it is the way one responds to the difficulties they are faced with.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.