When I was a little kid, my dad used to tell me a rather depressing bedtime story every night. Sometimes it made me cry, and on those evenings, he had to reassure me that it was nothing more than a tale — a metaphor for a greater message I needed to understand. After I got under my covers, he’d tell me about a fictional girl named Sally who lived on the streets.
“Sally was four years old like you, and she had no food, no blanket, no socks, no shoes, no sheets, no hats, no family. She lived outside,” he would say, emphasizing each “no.”
“Why can’t she come live with us?” I’d ask, certain this individual actually existed and needed our help. “She can share my room with me.”
That was when he’d say things turned around for Sally, as people donated money to a foster home, which took her in and eventually lined her up with a mom and dad. Suddenly she had all the things I did and a much better quality of life, but not without the assistance and generosity of humankind. That’s why, my dad said, I needed to be extra grateful for everything I had and always look out for other people. There were many Sallys out there, and little did I know, one of my greatest friends in the world, Nikki, whom I wouldn’t meet for almost two decades, was one of them.
Nikki and I only met last summer, but we knew pretty quickly that we were meant to be close friends. We had different but similar childhoods, if that makes sense. Nikki’s parents couldn’t take care of her, so she was placed in foster care as a pre-teen (she’s a journalist now and has discussed her adversities on the radio before), right before her mother died of cancer.
As much as we hate to admit it, we seek approval of people who are never going to accept us. We share that weakness, so I don’t expect either of us to overcome it anytime soon. Nikki moved from house to house without ever feeling like she had unconditional love, and while I certainly could never say the same about myself, I felt like a pariah and lonely for much of my youth. Having significantly older siblings will do that to you. They were lovely to me, but I didn’t have anyone to turn to in crisis, so I had to make my friends my family. Nikki and I were told all our lives that we weren’t good enough, and we’ve spent our adult lives trying to prove the naysayers wrong. We’ll probably continue doing it until we die, and we’ll be doing it alongside each other the whole ride up.
All that aside, this is the time of year to remember to go the extra mile for others. There are lots of Sallys in the world, and some of them could very well be friends, colleagues, neighbors, or acquaintances of yours. Never make assumptions about someone’s background, he/she may have been homeless or wandering the streets of a dirty city alone once. Be thankful for what you have, give when you can, and remember that you’re probably a lot better off than you think.