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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 4-15-22 – A Welcoming Station on the Polish Ukrainian Border

“The greatest gift you can open is your heart to someone in need.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

Two weeks ago, I woke up, got a warm cup of coffee, turned on the news and I saw a story about a train station on the Polish Ukrainian border. They have a welcoming station, with diapers for babies, food, and medical supplies. It really hit me in the gut. I found more such stories here. As we all know, families are fleeing the Ukraine for their lives with only what they can carry and no plan on what to do once they cross the border into Poland. Volunteers greet them and help them figure out what they might do next. Where they will lay their heads down to sleep as the sunsets and their next meal. A few weeks ago, these families’ lives looked like something we would all recognize and yet now, all of that is gone. Their only lifeline is the kindness of strangers. I cannot get these families out of my head.

The horror in the Ukraine shows us the darkest side of humanity, but it also brings out the best in us. José Andrés who must have one of the biggest hearts on this pale blue orb has brought the World Central Kitchen in. They have already served over one million meals. They have set up food depots in Poland and kitchens in the Ukraine. The citizens of Poland are leaving baby carriages and winter coats at train stations for arriving Ukrainian Mothers. It is evident that the people of Poland are standing up to help. It is also evident, they will need our help so that they can keep doing so.

Poland is perhaps one of the most invaded nations in human history. Those big open plains are the gateway to Europe. This list of wars involving Poland go back over 1,000 years. I found this blog post from a few weeks ago titled “Cross-Border Solidarity: A Story of Determination, Generosity, and Friendship.” I clipped this section below:

Across Poland and the rest of Europe, private citizens have mobilized in an extraordinary effort to help Ukrainians seeking refuge there. Volunteers bring donated blankets, clothing, hygiene products, food, and water to border and reception centers. They offer Ukrainians free rides to various cities within Poland and even other countries. At reception points, the volunteers share information about where they are going and how many people they can accommodate.

The people who live in this region are no strangers to atrocity. It is no accident that Poland, a nation that has experienced so much atrocity stands up to help their neighbor. People who have been broken or experience great adversity are most often the ones who will split their last slice of bread to share with a hungry stranger or go out of their way to help. I ran across this 2016 study that found “increasing severity of past adversity predicts increased empathy, which in turn, is linked to a stable tendency to feel compassion for others in need.” Heroes emerge out of adversity.

Few of us have had the experience of our very survival being dependent on the generosity of a stranger. I have had moments in my life that were profoundly influenced by the kindness of people who were willing to help me when life was bleak, when I did not know what to do next. People who simply stepped in and helped. It is a profoundly humbling experience. There is nothing to be done in that moment other than to accept that gift, even when I felt unworthy or underserving of such assistance and vowed to pay such efforts forward if ever provided the opportunity in life to do so.

Addiction was a hole from which I could not get out of by myself. A lot of people helped me get into recovery. Most of the people who helped me were not people I had known. They were strangers who helped me, most often because they had similar experiences in their own lives, and other people had stepped up and helped them out in their time of need. They paid it forward. A foundational element of recovery is service to others. This is part of what makes recovering people so special to me, we have walked through hell and so we devote out energy to helping people recover. As a mentor once noted, we must help, or we will end up hurting people again. True words of wisdom.

To be clear, no one had bombed my home, destroyed my community, and killed everything and everyone I ever loved. I have no frame of reference for that. But I have experienced addiction. The recognition of what addiction had wrought was slow. That which is often evident to observers is hidden from the actor in respect to addiction. Something that can be very difficult to understand unless you live it. It came with a sense of overwhelming hopelessness that I could not overcome alone. A life experience that opened my heart to helping ameliorate the suffering of others.

I ran across this White Paper from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley on the science of generosity. It is a compilation of what is known. They found we can teach it. Watching others be generous can increase our own generosity. I am grateful that there are volunteers greeting the people of Ukraine flee for their lives. Greeting them with open arms, warm clothes, and plates of food. I am grateful for all those who offered me generosity in times I was in need and the reminder that helping others is at the heart of who we are as a species.

What are you grateful for today?

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