In our discussion last week, we concluded that when it comes to commodities such as kindness, justice, and righteousness, you should spend exponentially more than you earn. It should be the rule of thumb that lavish and exorbitant behavior is the investment rule of the day. You can throw all restraint overboard and be totally thriftless.
Another key to life, however, is found not only in exercising and dispensing kindness, justice, and righteousness, but also in graciously accepting occasions of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Once people stop doing this, they cease to live.
George Orwell once wrote, “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” You may dream of being happy, you may sincerely wish you were happy, but until you allow yourself to open up and embrace happiness, it won’t be yours to experience. Or as Woody Guthrie used to say, “Take it easy, but take it.”
I vividly recall an experience in the country of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, where I was taught well that receiving the goodness coming my way depended upon my willingness to accept it. I had visited all of the individual republics of the old Soviet Union over the course of my travels. The history of that region, which boasted eccentric characters like Genghis Khan and Timur Tamerlane, was rich and colorful. People would gather around fires at night and listen to ancient tales of adventures along the old Silk Road. This historic road was the primary trade route in that part of the world for centuries, stretching approximately seven thousand miles from China to the Roman Empire.
But over the years, sailing ships replaced the camel caravans that plodded across the shifting sands of central Asia, and upstarts like Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev played their dirty political games and rearranged the geoeconomic chessboard.
Prior to my trip to central Asia, Project C.U.R.E. had received several official applications for medical assistance from ministers of health, hospitals, and clinics located in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. My schedule at the time would only allow me to travel there during the first two weeks in February. My itinerary had me flying from the United States to Germany, and then to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and eventually to Bishkek and Osh in Kyrgyzstan. An epic winter storm, however, changed all my travel plans. I arrived, eventually, in Kara-Kulja, Kyrgyzstan, by automobile. The storm was so severe that the entire region had run out of natural gas and electricity. The local hotels had nothing to offer, so I was invited to stay at a farm home.
Traditional Kyrgyz homes were built on a compound, with several separate buildings joined together by a fifteen-foot-high wall and a large metal entry gate for protection. One building served as a bath house, another building housed the cooking facility, another was for sleeping, and yet another building was for eating. I was served dinner while sitting on the floor on frayed carpet and leaning against a pillow.
Because of the cold, we all wore our coats during the meal. The hot food that had been brought in from the cooking building, in addition to our body heat, took off some of the chill.
After dinner, the old patriarch of the family invited me to join them as they slept in the kitchen building around the open cooking fire. There was no other heat. I glanced around the small building where we had eaten and decided that it was tolerably warm. I told the family I’d be all right staying there for the night if they had some blankets I could use to make a bed on the floor. I didn’t want to impose on them or intrude on their privacy. That was such a stupid choice, but they respected my decision and didn’t argue with me. They brought in a quilt and some leather horsehides to use as covers.
During the night, the temperature dropped dramatically, and the blizzard moved in with full gale force. The snow began to blow through the chinking of the ancient log walls and covered the floor and my bed. I was so cold that I tried putting my head under the blankets to consolidate my body heat. But that didn’t work at all. The old horsehide blankets smelled terribly like a barnyard, and I could count the length of time my head was under the covers in nanoseconds.
Finally I rummaged through the contents of my suitcase in the darkness and pulled out all my clothes to either put on or use as covers. I even took a couple of preworn undershirts and promptly wrapped my head with them, turban style, to stay warm. I actually worried about the possibility of freezing. I kept thinking about the open fire in the cookhouse. Why wasn’t I there?
As the condensation from my breathing turned to ice around my face, a crazy thought flitted through my brain: “If you can’t be content with what you’ve received, be thankful for what you’ve escaped.” I was going to be thankful for making it through the night.
I could have experienced warmth and comfort if only I had accepted the hospitality I had been offered. I might have dreamed of being warm. I might have sincerely wished for snuggly comfort, but because I had forfeited the offer to open up and embrace the warmth of the kitchen fire, comfort wouldn’t be my experience that wintry night.
In the future, I needed to do a better job of learning an important lesson. In order to receive a kind or helpful gesture, I would have to graciously accept the offer and then receive it. The offer to sleep by the family fire didn’t become mine that frigid night in Kyrgystan because I failed to accept the offer . . . So I nearly froze to death. Since that night, I’ve wondered just how many other occasions during my lifetime I’ve failed to benefit from something good because, for one reason or another, I didn’t accept and receive what was intended to make my situation better off.
These days, I’m trying to be a lot more open to accepting and receiving what I’m offered!