My family has often splurged on Black Friday. I remember vividly one Black Friday back in 2000 when my brothers, boyfriend and mom all got up super early and stood in line in the cold at Best Buy. Brandon and I were both building new computers and there was a large hard drive (probably only 40 GB back then) for sale for an amazing price. My brothers thought they could get one also to save for when they headed off to college. We weren’t at the front of the line, but we were there crazy early. We were huddled with layers of clothing and had a thermos of hot cocoa we kept passing around. It was fun and exciting and the best part was that we actually were spending time together as a family.
The doors opened at 6am and we rushed in to the store. Of course, there were no directions or maps, just a general sense of where things might be in the store. We headed to the computer accessories aisles and scoured the shelves for what we wanted. It was no where to be seen. But we were young and smart and had way too much caffeine for that early in the morning. One of us spotted on the super high top shelf a small little stockpile of these coveted hard drives. We called an associate over and he had to drag out one of those step ladder things. And then one by one, he started handing them down.
We made quite a commotion and so others came by to see what we had found. Soon a crowd had formed, but I was right there at the front. With people pressing in, the sales guy handed me one, and I would quickly pass it behind me to a waiting sibling. I’d grab another and pass them back. One by one, we each got the hard drives we had so coveted.
Ten years ago, a forty gig drive was stupendous. Today, my husband is investing in terabyte drives for his work computer. What we thought was so amazing is not worth anything today. We spent all of that money, probably loaded the drive with songs downloaded from Napster, and have nothing to show for it today.
On Thursday night, we started going through what has become a routine. The newspaper was purchased and the ads were laid out on the dining room table. I saw lots of things I wanted, but I realized nothing that I really needed. There was nothing there I could live without. There was nothing that I needed to spend my money on.
As parents and siblings have begun requesting Christmas lists, I have nothing to put on them.
In my new position with Imagine No Malaria, I have spent a lot of time listening to stories. Stories of people who have experienced malaria personally and stories of families who have sacrificed everything to try to save the life of a loved one.
Last week, Paul Wilcox shared with me this story:
12 years ago I visited El Salvador, a small country nestled away in the heart of Central America. I met there a young woman, named Carmen. She had lost 3 of her 4 children to phosphorescent bombs during El Salvador’s brutal civil war. Her remaining child survived only because Carmen carried him in her arms as she ran. She showed me the burns on her arms from that terrible night. Despite her heart-breaking loss, Carmen was a strong and resilient woman who was quick to smile and loved to dance! Her only son was the delight and joy of her life. Several days later my group returned to Carmen’s village and I was shocked to find Carmen sitting outside her hut, looking completely spent. She was sweating and weak and literally waiting to die! “What’s wrong with you?” I asked. “Paradismo” she answered—the Spanish word for malaria. Carmen was fully expecting to die. She had already “given” her son to her sister to raise. I asked her if she had been to a doctor. At that, she pulled from her pocket a doctor’s prescriptions for quinine. She was preparing to die because she lacked the $20 to fill the prescription. It took exactly 30 seconds to raise that much money from our group to save Carmen’s life, but how many others like Carmen; strong, resilient, and ready to rebuild their families and their communities, are reduced to shadows of themselves, weak and dying by this thief called malaria. When I returned home from this place where $20 can mean the difference between life and death, I realized to my shame that I spend that much on coffee in a week. It underscores for me what incredible power even a small gift can have in a world haunted by malaria.
I have a roof over my head. I have family that loves me. I stuffed by belly with turkey and ham and stuffing and potatoes this week. There is nothing in this world that I need. But there are people out there who are in such need. With such a little bit of money, I can help to provide life and opportunity and health and joy to not only a child, but all of the people whom that child will one day impact as they grow and thrive and learn and share their life with others.
As I looked through those ads, I started to circle things and think about what I wanted to buy… but my heart wasn’t quite in it. Tradition was all that really kept me looking. But you know what, my hard drive has long since been recycled. And I was already spending time with my family. If instead of buying more stuff I don’t need, I give today to make a difference in the life of a family struggling to overcome a battle with malaria – that money is going to have an impact far beyond ten years… it is going to transform communities and countries and an entire continent. That is what I call a best buy.
If you are looking for something to buy me for Christmas, start here: http://nc.iaumc.org/inm . This is our conference donation portal for Imagine No Malaria and you can not only make donations, but also give gifts in honor of people that you love. Spend a little less this year… and give a whole lot more.