For 14 years now I’ve been obsessed with a single thought. It’s a question really. A question I’ve asked a million times. And it took flying all the way to Africa to even realize it was bothering me. The question is – Why is a charitable donation so disengaging? There are other words I could have used and maybe listing some of the others will help paint the picture of the tension I faced. The other words: disconnected, detached, removed, uninvolved, distant, impassive, impersonal, unemotional. Before 2002, giving for me could be summarized or described as the following:
“I write a cheque, my bank account goes down a little, I get a handy tax receipt and receive a thank you letter or email… maybe.” I knew in my head that I probably did something good, but my heart had not been touched.
Then I flew to Namibia, Africa, and in one afternoon, everything changed. I met a man named Kamati who quickly became like a brother to me. He literally had nothing, but was one of the happiest people I’d ever met. 3 months later I sent an email to some friends at home, telling them about Kamati and what I’d do for him if they sent me some money. It took just 3 days. And I raised way more than I expected. So I took Kamati and we purchased some things that you and I wouldn’t think about living without – a fridge, some basic furniture, something to sleep on, some food, some light bulbs, a shower curtain. And then it happened.
While setting these things up in his tin-roof house some women from the community came over to see what we were doing. And then a celebration broke out. And before long we were dancing, and singing, and crying and watching the impact that a little bit of love and a few Canadian dollars had on Kamati and by default, an entire community. That day I realized that THIS was giving. This was the giving that I’d been yearning for but had never come close to experiencing. While dancing with these women and my friend Kamati I thought, if this is giving, then I’m in.
It took 25 years to first experience it. And then another 13 years to do something about it. But now I’m all in. Many people talk about having a mission or a passion for something and pursuing it. To say that about this would be giving myself too much credit. For me it was more of a nagging, unsettling, unrelenting thought that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t let go of. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do something about it… I DID. But I didn’t know WHAT. And that scared me. It was too big for me. And so I kept going through the motions in my ‘regular’ life until finally I was triple slapped in the face. There was a life changing moment in Las Vegas (of all places); a comment made on an AM sports radio show; and an unrelenting challenge from a good friend. I’ll share the others later, but here’s the excuse-eliminating, procrastination-busting, life-giving challenge my friend insisted I accept. He said,
“Jay, promise me you’ll wake up tomorrow and come up with ONE THING that will bring you closer to your goal. Then go and do it. And never stop doing at least one thing each day.”
For some reason I listened to him. And I believe the first ‘one thing’ I did was send an email. That was it. But that started my journey. And here I am, a year and a half later.
This is a first hand account about the power of giving. About the pursuit of a terrifyingly large dream. About simple acts of the heart. About changing the lives of givers and of receivers. About my personal struggle with giving and the best things that people taught me along the way. But most of all it’s about learning together what giving is REALLY like. And now I’m convinced there’s nothing more human or more astonishing than giving.