Over the last week, my city of Calgary, Alberta, has seen unprecedented flooding. About 75,000 people had to evacuate. The downtown core became a ghost town. Major transit routes stopped running. Bridges and train tracks were closed down or even washed out. Some of my friends are still without electricity after seven days. Some people may not be able to return home for weeks, as structures became unsound or unfit for habitation. Cars left in secure underground parking were submerged and written off. So many people lost so much.
I was lucky. Although I live only four blocks from the river, my building is not on the flood plain, and my apartment is on the 26th floor. I had power the whole time. I was inconvenienced with road closures, but not hurt. Although a handful of people died in the flood, it could have been a lot worse. So many of us are lucky in so many ways.
Not only are we lucky that it wasn’t worse, we are also lucky to live in a place where people help each other. Thousands of volunteers have stepped up to help their neighbours in any way they can – offering shelter, food, clothes and help with the clean-up. Many local businesses are donating equipment and supplies. Pump truck operators are showing up to pump out basements free of charge. City workers are pulling double shifts to clean up garbage, communicate information and patrol evacuated neighbourhoods. And the other day, I got to see an entire hockey rink filled with donated clothing and household goods out at Siksika Nation, a Native reserve. I joined dozens of volunteers from all over to help them sort it out.
In the midst of all this disaster and heroism, there was only one news story that shocked me: Cambodian orphans, some of the poorest of the poor, scraped together $900 out of donations they had received, and sent it to Alberta to help us out with flood relief.
Now, it’s hard to write about this, because I have no words to describe the feelings of humility and gratitude that come up.
My first reaction to the story was resistance. Alberta has billions of dollars, and these kids have almost nothing. It’s just not right that we should accept anything from them. We should be giving them money! I mean, while some Albertans have lost so much, the rest of us still have more than enough. We should be able to take care of our own.
Then I realized: This gift is theirs to give. They have the right to give it to whomever they choose. They chose us.
They also have the right to experience the joy of giving. Doesn’t it feel good to give? Why should we deny them that right? Why not let them experience that joy?
Here in Alberta, we get to learn some beautiful lessons from this:
It’s a beautiful lesson in grace. We don’t deserve to receive anything from them. But we did. Sometimes the Universe just throws something extra your way to remind you of the ridiculous abundance that love creates.
It’s a beautiful lesson in compassion. They saw that Albertans were suffering, and chose to do what they could to alleviate that suffering. They didn’t stop to ask how effective it would be. They didn’t ask if we really needed it. They didn’t stop to consider, that if you give money to Albertans, they’ll just spend it on alcohol anyway. (It’s true. We drink a lot.)
Those Cambodian orphans didn’t give rationally. They gave because they could.
Finally, this is a beautiful lesson in humility. If someone who has nothing can give something, then what can I give, when I have so much?