As the world renowned philosopher Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need.” While you may be questioning my judgment right about now, let me reassure you from my experience that Jagger makes a very valid point.
“Ugh, stupid iPod, turn on! This thing had better work on the plane,” I said as we boarded the flight from Cincinnati on our way to Ukraine. I had a list of things I needed to get when I got home. “I need a new iPod, mine is ancient. Am I getting fat? I need that new exercise machine I saw on TV. I need some new clothes for this season too; last year’s clothes aren’t stylish enough.” I wasn’t asking for much, after all I had friends that had new cars, Prada shoes… you know, the luxuries of life. Mine were simply things I needed.
I expected things to be different in Ukraine, but I thought, “It’s the 21st century! How different could it be?” What I didn’t know was that Ukraine was still recovering from Soviet rule. Stepping off the plane was like stepping into post-WWII Europe with bomb debris still scattered in the streets. As we gathered our luggage and headed into the city, the suspicious, fearful glances told us we were not welcome.
This wasn’t going to be a vacation, not by any stretch. We were there for a purpose. We had gone to help a local congregation with their mission efforts. We were scheduled to teach in local schools and to help with a weeklong children’s program at the church. It was hard work, and we were doing it on little sleep and without air conditioning during a heat wave. We even had to boil the water to drink or brush our teeth to avoid getting cholera. But it was more than worth it. The people we helped were the most grateful, kind hearted people I have ever met. It was as if they didn’t know they were living in such exiguousness. These people were happy when, by our standards, they had no reason to be.
The generosity of one of the women was especially astounding. She cooked for all eight of us for six nights. And on the last night she fixed us a feast that cost her at least four days pay. But she didn’t seem to care. In her poverty she sacrificed to give us, who were filthy rich in comparison, the best she had to offer. That was true selflessness.
I returned home exhausted, but a better person. Suddenly, I was grateful for everything: my bed, McDonald’s, air conditioning. Things I thought were necessities. I was thrilled with the iPod I had. I didn’t need a new exercise machine when I had a treadmill that I wasn’t using. I had clothes that would keep me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I had everything I needed and most of what I wanted. I was rich. I just didn’t know it.
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