Most of the time, we live our lives without realizing that every person we have met--and every person we will meet--help us to build our character and values. A teacher, a clerk, and a doctor are people that we have met at least once in our lives, and each could have a profound effect on our character.
However, sometimes it is the ordinary people we meet every day who have the greatest effect on the formation of our character and values.
For me, there is one person that helped me to be the man that I am today: my father. My father--a faithful, yet beautifully simple person--never forced me to attend Church. Rather, he conquered my inhibitions through his example and made me docile to the decisions he made. He taught me great things, and now that I am no longer a child, I can recall three simple but very important events that have become pillars of my life and truly foundational to my character.
The first event made an indelible impression on me as a child--and still does to this day. When I was eight years old, my family along with other relatives and friends, went on a family trip to the mountains in Pance, a beautiful place in the South of Cali, Colombia. In that place there is an immense, yet tranquil, river that has the same name of the place. We used to camp there because one could breathe fresh air, see beautiful trees and flowers, and unplug from the stress of the big city. We used to go there at least once a year. I remember one particular day we were playing soccer, and suddenly, my father stopped the game because he saw somebody in trouble. There was a group of about ten nuns trying to cross the river because their camp was on the other side. I remember that the bridge we had used to cross to the other side was 10 to 15 minutes down the river. I was impressed when my father asked one of the nuns if they needed some help, and he offered to assist them to the other side of the river. The first reaction of the nuns was to decline his offer, but immediately all of us started cheering “Do it! Do it! Do it!.” Finally, they accepted the offer for help, and my dad helped each one of them get to the other side. As simple as this may seem, the fact that my father stopped our game to immediately help others in need showed me to be ready to help others when in need and to not delay.
The second event was just as impressionable. It came six years later. I was seated outside our house with some friends and my little brother, talking about scary stories. Suddenly, a man with long hair, broken shoes, dirty clothes, and a foul smell, stopped in front of us and asked for a glass of water. My first reaction was of fear because I related that man with one of the characters in the scary story. I asked the man to wait for a moment, and I entered my home to grab an old and broken cup to use to serve the stranger water. Before I could go back outside my dad asked, “What are you doing?” I told him about the man, and immediately he stood up from the couch and went to him. I remember that the stranger was scared when he saw my dad, but his face changed when my dad asked him, “Are you hungry?” My friends, my brother, and I were shocked and were left with our mouths hanging open. My mom served the man a complete dinner menu, and before he left, I remember that my dad gave the man some money. The man said thank you, God bless, and good bye. I never saw him again. This was a vivid lesson of the meaning of true charity: To give people in need what we have, and to help them live a dignified life.
Finally, the third lesson came years later when I was 16 years old. My father became our soccer coach. One day, we were in the semi-final playing against the most difficult opponents of the tournament. We had lost the first game in their home field 1-0, and we needed to win the match for more than one goal to qualify for the final. A tied score would advance the visiting team. Fortunately for us, we were winning the second game 1-0, and there were 30 minutes to be played. What a surprise when my dad called me to leave the game giving the opportunity to another player that I “knew” was not a strong player. Confused, I left the field. I was angry with my dad, and five minutes later the new guy made a critical error, and the opponent scored. The score tied 1-1, and if that remained the final score, we would be out of the competition! For some strange reason, I remember that a marvelous smile appeared on my face. My dad called the guy who replaced me and told him, “Don’t worry. Relax and do what we were talking about.” I can still remember the clock displaying 80 minutes--just 10 minutes left! At this point the player who had made the error, stole a ball, passed it over the opponent defense, and our best player hit the ball with his head and scored a wonderful goal. Now we were up in the score 2-1, and with the possibility to go to the final. Minutes later, the referee noted that there were 2 minutes for the game to be over. I was preparing myself to see the score tie-up, resulting in penalty kicks, but almost at the very end of the game, the “weaker” player who had replaced me hit the ball like a gunshot that was impossible for the goalkeeper to stop. Goooolazoooo! (Golazo, in soccer and in Spanish, means a magnificent goal). I jumped out of the chair and ran like a crazy man to hug and lifted the “weak player”. The match ended, and we were in the final! What a great lesson I learned that day. I learned that everybody in this world is important (even if seemingly weaker), and nobody is disposable. I learned to leave my pride aside and recognized that I am not better than my neighbor, but the servant of all.
These three simple stories contained three big lessons for my life. Within each story, my dad taught me essential and easy rules for life. First, when my father helped the nuns, I learned that I have to leave whatever I am doing if somebody needs help, and it does not matter if helping my neighbor will stop my happiness because we receive more happiness giving than receiving. Second, my father displayed true charity. Every person and every family has their own challenges, and we are obligated to share whatever we have, spiritual or material, in order to help those in need. Finally, there is humility. With this lesson, I learned that I am not greater than anybody else. Everyone has a role to play. Everyone matters. Feeling superior to others does not help and makes one arrogant and quarrelsome. I learned to be the servant of others doing whatever is necessary to give happiness to my loved ones and neighbors. Practicing these three simple things--helpfulness, charity, and humility--will make anyone happier than they could have ever imagined.
My blog “It´s for Real”
Glenn Fong is from Cali, Colombia but is currently living in Florida. He has been married to Sandra for 15 years, (yes, it is possible! Marriage is supposed to be forever!), and they have been blessed with two children. Glenn studied Systems Engineering at San Buenaventura University in Cali, Colombia and now works for a multinational company as an Analyst-Developer. He is not a writer, but his passion for Christ and His Church propel him to write about many different topics.
Glenn Fong is author and editor of the Blog "It´s for Real", which can be found on the website www.familiesfullyalive.com.