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The Fire of Charity

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There is a consuming, typhoon-like force behind charity that changes people.  How cliché is the story of the rich dude, who, lost in the meaninglessness of his wealth starts a charity, or donates large portions of it away?  Usually that requires some sort of deep introspection or mountaintop epiphany on his part.  However, being the recipient to charity can often times fast-forward that whole process.

The issue is, in our society we have everything.  We don’t usually need to receive any type of charity.  We have to wait for the voice of Buddah or some late night infomercial on puppy dogs to smack us over the head.  Or, we can have a forest fire rip through our lives and take everything.

I never thought I would need charity.  Let people keep their handouts.  Instead, I would be the one in my pompous reality to do the giving.  Some sort of misguided asterisk to whatever financial success I’d been given.  “Always give back.  Tis better to give than to blah, blah, blah…”  Charity was always from a position of ego.  Not from a deep understanding of need.

The fire taught me what it meant to be in need.  Dependency will carve humility in the most uncomfortable ways from the inside out.  The first week of the fire, after losing everything, a group of us firefighters got four hours to go sleep and we ended up at a Captain’s house.  Before closing my bloodshot eyes on a hide-a-bed for a few hours, the captain asked if there was anything we needed.  I had to swallow all my pride and the Jupiter sized lump in my throat to ask for a clean pair of underwear.

I had to ask for a lot over the coming weeks and months.  Not one of those experiences was comfortable.  What it taught me though, was that there are people, everywhere that experience this need.  Not just after a fire, but every day, for a million and one different reasons.

Fort McMurray is now poised, I hope, in an incredible position of understanding.  The good that can and will come from the residents of this city in the coming years will be the typhoon that will blow people away.  Because we get it.  We know what it means to hurt.  Real charity almost demands that type of relatability to be genuine.  To have been there, needing to ask, reluctantly putting your hand out to receive.  It’s a nuclear blow to your pride and your desire to make it on your own.  But maybe that’s a good hit to take.

One of my favorite things I’ve received during this whole episode was a card given to me from two of my fellow firefighters.  In it, was confirmation of a donation made to Doctors Without Borders in my name.  Imagine a homeless family in another country receiving a monetary donation, a roof over their head, from someone across the planet, who themselves had just lost EVERYTHING.  While wrestling with insurance companies, paying rent on top of a mortgage and needing to cut back on my own giving, having these guys put MY name on it instead of theirs set my feels right on fire.  That’s humanity.  That’s charity.  That’s how it changes the world.

Doing something for someone that can never repay you is at the depth of character.  It gives the recipient a fire inside that transforms their driving force from one of ego to one of sacrifice for a common good.  Fort McMurray like nowhere else, can understand that.  Moving forward, the people from here, I’m convinced, can change the country.


“Remember, when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received—only what you have given: a heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”

—St. Francis of Assisi