I just boarded a 6:45 am flight to Denver with my family. We were split up. Actually, Yan and Cade were put together. Ella and I were both assigned middle seats, across the aisle from each other in the same row. I guess that’s what I get for buying the budget economy ticket on United. 

It just never would have occurred to me that United would sit a 9-year-old child by herself. I knew we didn’t get guaranteed seats … I didn’t pay the extra $20 per ticket for the privilege of picking my own seats … and now I regret it. 

First, for me, traveling is all about the experience with my family. Even the airplane ride is an important part of that experience. Second, poor Ella, a child had to sit by herself between two strangers. And if that wasn’t enough to make me feel like I totally botched booking the flight, I then have to sit through the safety briefing (which should really be called the disaster seminar). 

I’m being told to secure my own oxygen mask first before assisting my child. United may not have noticed, but that little stretchy hose on the mask isn’t long enough to reach across the aisle. So, I am either unable to assist my child or I cannot remain in my seat to secure my own mask. No good choices you’ve left me, United, but I know which one I’m going to take. Yet I’m very uneasy at the thought of having to make such a choice and I’m rattled at the thought of jumping out of my seat, running across the aisle, and trying to get Ella’s oxygen mask on her in the midst of whatever emergency we find ourselves in, all while trying to hold my breath so I can take care of my daughter before I pass out from lack of oxygen. 

Then the flight attendant gets to the emergency exit part of the briefing which induces a vision of my little girl being trampled and me throwing elbows to try to get to her. But I’m quickly relieved of that imagery as the flight attendant pulls me into the terror that is the inflatable life vest. I’m not even sure I could follow the instructions on how to deploy  (and anything you have to “deploy” is inherently complicated, just saying) the darn thing. Ella’s in real trouble if she must do that for herself … or rely on me to do it for her for that matter. And do they expect me to rely on a stranger to do that for her in the event of a chaotic water landing? C’mon, United.

Ah, but then a moment of relief as I remember the whole thing is a big tease anyway (I saw “Fight Club”). Of course, from that point on I could only think of the plane going down without me even being able to hold my little girl’s hand or provide her any small comfort in our last moments.  And all this would confirm my ultimate failure as a father. Ugh!!

At any rate, that was the demented torture my mind put me through. Perhaps it’s just my innate morbidity as an estate planning attorney – always looking through the lens of “what could go wrong here” – but that was the path my brain took.  

United Airlines, this is not an open letter to call you out – though shame on you for forcing a young child to sit by herself, and for making her parent be apart from his child, and for the hypocrisy of your safety briefing when you separate a parent from his child, and for not making it clear you would separate a parent from his child if he did not pay the extra $20 per seat to choose those seats.

And shame on me for being a cheapskate and allowing my daughter and myself to be put in that position. BUT, there’s also a big business takeaway here for me. I have a large sign in our lobby titled “We believe”. It goes on to list a bunch of beliefs which are part of the culture of my firm, several of which are pertinent here–

“We believe cheap legal services are never a good substitute for value.” United, along with most of the rest of the airline industry, is on a race to the bottom: cutting services, competing to see who can be the cheapest, and losing sight of (or just not caring about) the customer experience. So, I had a negative experience on this flight, and I don’t feel like United particularly cares about me or my family. Substituting cheap service for value created a yucky experience and a negative association with that business. I never want my clients to feel that way.

“We believe nothing is more important than family.” We want our employees to know that. We want our clients to know that. We want to support both our clients and our employees in taking care of their families. We don’t want hypocritical policies or insensitive procedures.  We want everything we say and everything we do stand for and stand by family. 

“We believe being a parent is the most challenging, most rewarding thing in life.” I failed as a father, yet again (but luckily with no dire consequences- we just landed.). But I learned much this morning. Don’t trust every company to do what’s right (especially where your children are concerned). A good company makes it clear what they stand for and makes it a consistent message throughout their interactions with their customers.  Oh, and a dad has to forgive himself over and over again and sometimes thank his child for being brave when things don’t go as planned.

Thank you, Ella.

Thanksgiving, hands down, is my favorite holiday.  Ever since I was a little kid, it’s always centered on three of my favorite things: food, football, and family.  But this year Yan and I put a little twist on things which made it a unique Thanksgiving.  And though it deviated from the “traditional” Thanksgiving I love so much, it was simply my best Thanksgiving ever.

Earlier this year Yan said to me, “I found $400 roundtrip, direct flights to Madrid from LAX; the only catch is, we have to travel during Thanksgiving.” But that also meant Cade and Ella already had a week off from school and quite frankly, when Yan cooks up an adventure, I know it’s going to be awesome – it’s one of the many reasons I married her.  Add to that, what sounded like the deal of the century to visit a country none of had ever experienced before and it was a no-brainer.

So, the four of us flew to Madrid the week before Thanksgiving.  We spent three-and-a-half days walking and eating our way through that amazing city before catching a train to Seville to do the same thing there for another three days.  Then back to Madrid (with a day-trip to Toledo) for our final three days in Spain.  We easily walked 8-10 miles each day, stopped into an equal number of tapas bars each day, and spent every minute of each day being with, connecting with, and enjoying each other.

I learned that my daughter is a traveler in her soul.  Ella’s spirit of adventure and desire to chase experiences fit perfectly with Yan and me and made her a true joy to travel with.

I reconfirmed that my son is quite possibly the most culinarily adventurous kid in America.  There was no Spanish dish he wasn’t up for at least trying, if not devouring, critiquing, and comparing with the other similar dishes we’d tried earlier.  He has an amazing palate and an amazing openness to new gastronomic experiences.

And I rediscovered why my wife is my best friend. She is daring, adventurous, loving, supportive, resilient, and up-for-anything. I can’t imagine a better travel companion, in Europe or life.

So we did not eat Turkey on Thanksgiving, didn’t watch football (no soccer doesn’t count even though the Spaniards call it “football”), and we weren’t with extended family – all things that make me look forward to and relish the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was just us, eating various unfamiliar tapas dishes, talking and laughing and loving being in a new and fantastic country with one another.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more and I’m not sure I’ll ever top it.  But I do have a remarkable wife and kids who live for new adventures … so who knows?

I know why I like Thanksgiving so much – it’s an excuse to focus on what life is really all about anyway.

I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with love and laughter and connectedness to the people most important in your life, too.





Cade, Ella and me wading across the Aitutaki lagoon

Cade, Ella and me wading across the Aitutaki lagoon

My family and I spent last week on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, two of the Cook Islands – the Cook Islands is a small nation made up of 15 tiny islands in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. It’s a geographical fact that there are few places on earth more remote. And while it’s more opinion than fact, I can’t imagine many (perhaps, any) places on the planet are more beautiful.

Yan and I love to travel and though we’ve been to so many places we’ve adored, when given the opportunity to go back to someplace we’ve already been or to go to someplace new, we almost always choose the latter. And now that Cade and Ella are old enough to appreciate the more exotic locales, we want to take them to as many new places as we can. So when Yan found $400 round trip, direct flights to the Cook Islands, we booked the trip without a second thought!

“Kia Orana” is the Maori (the language of the original Cook Islanders) greeting on the islands. Its literal translation is “May you live long.” In my conversations with the Cook Islanders I asked a lot of questions about this greeting and really dug in deep. I was told that is both a blessing and a wish. I saw Cook Islanders passing this on to everyone they met from tourists, to friends, to family. I was told it communicates the essence of the islands’ spirit and goes far beyond a simple greeting. It directly ties into the core cultural value of mana – which literally means power and influence, but constructively means so much more – which is a family’s sacred duty to collect and pass down to the next generations.

Wow. That sounds a lot like legacy to me. And it has nothing to do with material wealth. It’s all about spirit and family and values and stories and experiences. And the power of legacy lives strong in the people of the Cook Islands. It’s all about empowering families. Not necessarily political power or other forms of power over others, but rather, the power within. It’s the kind of power which connects one generation to the next and makes each successive generation stronger.

Our experience in the Cook Islands helped expose our kids to travel in general and two of the most amazing locales our world has to offer. Part of it is about introducing them to new cultures and people, different from us yet so similar on a basic human level. In the Cook Islands we met many native islanders, scores of Kiwis, some Aussies, and a smattering of Asians and Europeans. We saw almost no other Americans. Our kids played and made friends with other kids from all over the world and gained in their appreciation of the big, diverse planet they live on.

We made memories as a family in one of the earth’s truly special areas. Those memories and that shared experience have now become part of the legacy Yan and I will pass on to Cade and Ella. But what an unexpected treat to learn so much about how another amazing culture views legacy. It is proof that legacy really matters to all of us as human beings, no matter our ethnicity or national origin. That’s pretty cool.

Marc Garlett 91024

DSC_5776A week ago last Friday, I received a call from Field Elementary in the middle of the day.  Ella was in the nurse’s office with a fever and she was complaining of a sore throat and body aches. Uh oh, I thought… the flu.  I went to pick her up and tried to make an appointment with her pediatrician. No walk-ins allowed, and they were already fully booked through Saturday so I made an appointment for Monday.

She felt progressively worse, and her fever got increasingly higher, over the weekend.  On Monday morning, the doctor confirmed she had the flu but said it was too late to give her Tamiflu because we didn’t get her in within the first 24 – 48 hours.   I decided to forego the debate about why Ella wasn’t able to get in to see the doctor as soon as her symptoms presented, and instead focused on what we could do at this point to get her better.  I was told there was really nothing to do other than give her fluids and let things run their course.

Ella continued to go downhill over the course of the week.  Yan and I juggled staying home with her and on Thursday – Yan’s day – Yan had a doctor’s appointment of her own.  Ella had to go with Yan because I had client appointments scheduled all day. Yan’s doctor took one look at Ella and asked if she could listen to Ella’s heart and lungs. She became concerned and suggested Yan take her back to the pediatrician as soon as possible. Yan took her right over after her own appointment.

After battling with the receptionist over the “no walk-ins” policy – Yan prevailed – the doctor discovered Ella’s flu had progressed into pneumonia and her pulse ox level was alarmingly low.  A prescription was written, and Yan was told to bring Ella back the following day to see if the medicine helped Ella improve.  If there was no improvement within 24 hours, the doctor said she would be admitting Ella to the hospital straight away.

That night was a long, sleepless night as I watched my baby girl curled up in the fetal position, panting like a dog because her lungs couldn’t get enough oxygen into her body.  Her eyelids and lips were slightly blue and I was terrified she would go into respiratory distress at any minute.  She seemed right on the brink.  Finally, about 3 am, her breathing evened out and deepened, her tensed up body relaxed, and she seemed to have finally turned the corner.

So we watched Ella go from healthy to sick to very sick to dangerously sick, all in less than a week.  I am certain that if Yan hadn’t taken Ella to her own doctor’s appointment, or if the pediatric receptionist had had her way, Ella would have been in a real fight for her life by Friday.  And we’ve all heard how many children have lost that fight this flu season.  I can’t imagine what those parents have gone through, but I did get a glimpse, as I stood at the edge and looked down with my own child, at just how helpless they must have felt and how quickly their lives went from normal to devastated.  My heart aches for them.

At her follow up appointment on Friday it was confirmed that Ella had indeed turned the corner and would not have to go to the hospital.  I am so thankful.  I was so scared.  It was another reminder of just how fragile life is and how precious is the gift of every single day we have together as a family.

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911Like many of you, I watched the remembrances and commemorations covered on television Monday, September 11, this past week.  I thought a lot about that fateful day 16 years ago, my memories of watching the towers come down still vivid in my mind.  The horror, the sadness, still heavy on my heart.  The heroic actions of so many brave men and women still giving hope to my soul.

And then on Tuesday, the very next day, I was listening to motivational speaker Winn Claybaugh, as he addressed the Sierra Madre Rotary Club about experiencing the very same feelings I myself had just the day before.  We shared the knowledge that those thousands of people, trapped in airplanes or buildings, suddenly realized they were in the very last moments of their lives.  And we both thought about how that must have felt – but of course, we can’t really know.  The one thing we do know, however, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that many of those people, comprehending they only had moments left to live, chose to use those precious last few seconds to make phone calls.

We’ve all heard the stories.  And we know they didn’t call their bosses, or their employees, to complain about stress in the workplace.  We know they didn’t call a neighbor or relative they were having a dispute with to take one final parting shot.  We know those that could, made phone calls to the people they loved most in the world.  And we know the simple message they conveyed was a message of love.  “I love you,” they said.  “No matter what happens, know that I love you.”

Because in the end – the literal end – nothing else mattered.  At all.  To a person, they just wanted to hear their loved one’s voice one last time.  They wanted to send one final message: “I love you.”  That was their priority; the most important thing in the world.  Nothing else mattered.  Can there be any doubt love is stronger than hate?  Can there be any mistake that what’s most important, when everything is all said and done, is the love we have for our families?

How amazing is that?! What a tribute to us as human beings. And yes, pure evil does reside in some human beings. That’s always been the case.  But there is also such pure goodness and love in so many of us.  And ultimately, this all speaks to why I love doing what I do.  Because at the very end, nothing matters but the love we have for our families.  Estate planning is the way – the only way, in fact – to guarantee that last message of love, security, and hope comes through to our loved ones loud and clear.

And when it comes right down to it, that’s the only thing that matters.  So, my question is this: have you taken the necessary steps to ensure your final message will be clearly heard and unequivocally understood by the people you love most in the world?  Estate planning can – and should be – about so much more than just legal documents.  It is – and must be – about successfully finishing the most important message of your life to the most important people in your life.

If you haven’t gotten it done yet, stop procrastinating.  Get your estate plan in place.  Don’t let the most important opportunity of your life pass you by.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and securing your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024

220px-Sir_Winston_S_ChurchillCade and Ella had their regional swim meet on Saturday morning, which they qualified for by swimming in at least two of the regular meets. They were both super nervous. It was not lost on them that this was the biggest meet of the summer (so far), there would be lots and lots of competitors, and lots and lots of spectators.  Their nerves were bristling.

Poor Cade, who has really struggled to finish better than last in almost every race this summer, was resigned to the continuation of that consistency. It broke my heart knowing how hard that was on his ego. It also swelled my heart with pride that, no matter how sure of the inevitability of facing the embarrassment of last place in each and every race, he never hesitated to get up on the blocks and compete. Not once. Nor did he give up when everyone else had touched the wall, climbed out of the pool, and he was still swimming. He finished strong every time and even congratulated his friends who had done well. That display of character from my 9-year-old son provided me another small glimpse into the future, to the kind of man he’ll be. And I couldn’t have been prouder.

Poor Ella, who doesn’t struggle keeping up with others nearly as much as Cade, nevertheless had her own opportunity to come up big in the heart department if not on the medal podium. In her first individual race, the 50-breast stroke, she swam free-style. That’s right, while everyone else was swimming breast she swam free… not on purpose, but rather, because she made a mistake. She got disqualified of course, but the real calamity was the embarrassment of swimming the wrong stroke in front of everyone. She came over after the race and had a mini-meltdown in my arms.

Both Yan and I talked to her about not quitting in the face of adversity. We talked about times we had been embarrassed but kept on going. I went through a list of colloquialisms: falling down seven times and getting up eight; falling off the horse and getting right back in the saddle; not dwelling on the mistakes of the past but correcting them for the future; blah, blah, blah. Ella was unimpressed. In fact, she was inconsolable. There was no way she was going to go back out for the next race, the 50-free. No way, no how. She was mortified at her mistake and would just as soon have drowned as face the crowd again after her very public, very obvious blunder.

So Yan and I weren’t sure how this was going to play out. We knew we were both on the same page even without having to say it to each other. We wanted her to face her fears and get back out there. We knew there was great value for her in that lesson. But the only way she was going to get back out there was if she made that decision herself. We could drag her kicking and screaming to the blocks, but we couldn’t make her dive in – and there’s probably a rule against us pushing her in (or maybe even a law). So we empathized with her, encouraged her, and tried to inspire and empower her to make the choice to get back out there. And finally, just as the race was about to start, she walked over to the starting blocks under her own power. She went slowly and begrudgingly and uncomfortably, but she went.

And it turns out, she got really into the competitive aspect of the meet. She missed placing in the top three of the 50-free and advancing to the next swim meet by only a couple of tenths of a second. And then she forgot all about her error in the earlier race. So although she didn’t win, or even place, that race was a total victory for her. She made the decision to fight, to overcome, and to not give in. I was as proud of her as I was of Cade. My kids both showed a heckofalotta heart and demonstrated what being a champion is really all about. Saturday was a day I’ll never forget. And I hope they never do, either.

Marc Garlett 91024

Teddy RooseveltThis past weekend was a good one. We took Cade and Ella to a swim meet early Saturday morning, then dropped them off at Yan’s parents’ house. Yan and I spent the rest of the day working on renovations at an investment property we recently closed on.

Cade and Ella have protested the swim meets (This summer, Yan signed them up for the Loma Alta Park swim team which competes against other LA County park teams). They don’t mind the practices – they’ve each been taking swimming lessons since they were 2. But neither of them likes the competition. And I mean at all. Ella keeps saying to me, “racing is just not my thing.”

But we’ve pushed them (forced them, really) to stick with it and compete. Not to win, mind you… but to compete. I’ve had very earnest talks with both, “I don’t care if you come in first place or last, as long as you go out there and give it your all.” Besides, there are valuable life lessons one can only learn from losing. It’s hard to watch my kids lose – because I know they feel bad about it (and that’s part of my challenge as a father; to teach them it’s okay to feel bad about losing but that losing shouldn’t make them feel bad about themselves) – yet I also know, from experience, that losing makes you dig deep, find out what you’re made of, and decide how you’re going to respond. Are you going to pick yourself up and take another swing at it or put your tail between your legs and limp away?

Cade came in dead last in his first race and walked over to apologize to me. I said, “Wait a minute, I was just going to tell you how proud I was that you saw you were going to come in last but you didn’t quit or even slow down; you finished strong.” Cade looked down and said, “I knew I was going to lose. I always lose. It doesn’t bother me anymore.” I replied, “I think it does bother you and that’s why I’m so proud. Because even though it bothers you, you’re still out there competing. And you can hold your head up high because of that. That takes heart. I’m so proud everyone here sees the strength of heart my son has. In fact, I couldn’t be prouder.”

Life is competitive. And although most of the kids Cade (and Ella, too, for that matter) swam against were a full year older, I didn’t want him focusing on excuses. I wanted him thinking about how to improve his technique so he could improve his competitiveness. So that’s what we talked about. From the subject line, you may have guessed that I’m a big Teddy Roosevelt fan. One of my all-time favorite quotes ever comes from him: “It is not the critic who counts. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

This is what I wish for my children.

Marc Garlett 91024

fathers day 91024My Father’s Day was really, really great. I spent the afternoon at Angel’s Stadium watching the Royals for a full nine innings with my parents, my wife, and my children. And the Royals won the ball game, which was icing on the cake.

As I sat there with my dad and my kids, I couldn’t help but reflect on fatherhood. I thought about the things my dad taught me as a kid. Inconsequential – but important – things like how to throw a baseball, how to ride a bike, how to grill a hamburger. And the more consequential – but less concrete – lessons like how to be a gentleman (my mom never had to open a door, pump gas, or pull out her chair when my father was around), how to provide for your family, and how to lead by example.

My thoughts turned to my own role as father and the things of consequence my children are learning from me. I think the gentleman thing is just ingrained in me from watching how my father treated my mother every day. I hope my son picks that up from me, too, and I hope there’s no doubt in my daughter’s mind about what she can and should expect from any man who desires her affections.

But I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy in providing for my family, financially and emotionally. I know my shortcomings and so I know what more I could be doing. And I also have doubts about the example I’m setting. Sometimes it’s good, if not great. But at other times it leaves a lot to be desired. Occasionally I demonstrate the exact behaviors I am trying to help my children outgrow and overcome. Ugh!

It’s not that my father was perfect with me. He wasn’t. He’s human, after all. And although I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I know I don’t have to be flawless to be a good father. But I’m not always clear whether I’m taking two steps forward for every one back, or if it’s the other way around. And the direction I’m going matters. There are two precious lives depending on me getting this right. Three if you count their mother – and I do!

Being a father is the most important work I’ve ever done. And yes, it is work. There’s no time off and no timecard to punch out with. I know I don’t have to be perfect, but I do owe it to all of them to them to bring my A game. I have to reconcile that with the fact that I’m not always going to be that man; the MVP I want to be. And I know sometimes I’m not even going to be junior varsity-worthy. I suppose there’s value in showing them you can fall short, fail even, but not let that knock you out of the game. That I can do. I only hope that when my kids look back on what they learned from me, it’s more than just that.

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difficultCade doesn’t like learning Chinese – at all. After yet another painful Saturday morning Chinese tutoring session, in a long string of painful Saturday morning Chinese tutoring sessions, everyone was fed up… Yan, me, Cade himself, and no doubt his tutor as well. Cade’s most common refrain during tutoring has been, “I can’t; it’s too hard.”

But last Saturday something changed. I’d finally had enough, I guess. Instead of coddling and cajoling, or begging and pleading, or yelling and screaming (all of which we’ve tried, repeatedly), I simply sat my son down and had a very deep, serious, heart to heart with him.

I talked to him about deciding what kind of person he wanted to be and what kind of life he wanted to have. I spoke about making a choice between being the kind of person who finds ways to achieve rather than the kind of person who finds excuses. Then I reminded him of where he comes from. The stock he’s made of. The kinds of people who’ve come before him and passed their DNA to him.

I talked specifically about his maternal grandparents who escaped a China labor camp during the cultural revolution (if you missed that blog entry you can read it here). I asked him what would have happened if they’d have said, “it’s too hard; we can’t do it.” Realizing that would have meant his mom probably would’ve never been born, and, that even if she had been, I certainly would have never met her, made him think long and hard about his own existence and the far-reaching effects of life’s decisions.

I told him, in detail, about my paternal grandparents. My grandfather was crippled for most of his life yet I never heard him complain or saw him feel sorry for himself. Not once. Nor did I ever hear him make excuses, say something was too hard, or see him give up. I only ever witnessed the opposite. In fact, apart from the constant use of crutches and having a hard time getting up and down out of a chair, he was pretty much Superman. And I’ll tell you this- there’s nothing he couldn’t build.

I then explained how my grandmother’s parents basically sold her and her little sister into what amounted to slavery when they were just little girls. I described how they used to be chained to a bed, together, each night so they wouldn’t run away, and how my grandmother’s sister couldn’t hold her bladder through the night, and how my grandmother would wet the bed too, on purpose, so she could take the blame – and the beating – which followed each morning.

I wanted him to understand the difference between Chinese (and yes, I get it, Chinese IS hard!) and the life altering, punch in the gut types of hardships life can, and does, deal out. And I wanted him to know that people in his family had faced those types of hardships, endured them, and ultimately triumphed over them. Again, when I had answered all his questions, I could see the wheels in Cade’s head spinning intensely.

And then I completely changed my tone, my approach, indeed, my parenting. I told Cade we were done saying something was too hard. I told him he was better than that and his forbearers hadn’t made it through what they had only so he could quit now. I told him he owed it to them to decide to have a “can do” attitude. I told him even more than that though, he owed it to himself. I told him I believed in him and wasn’t going to let him sell himself short a moment longer.

Something seemed to click, for both of us, there. We discovered a new, close connection with each other and it felt good. Really good. I know he wants to believe in himself. He’s just scared. I also know one of the best things I can accomplish as his father is to help that belief take hold and blossom. I see the way forward. And I’m confident he will arrive because he was hopeful enough to begin following me, knowing full well the direction I’m leading.

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Yan and Ella (1)Marc and Cade It was another whirlwind weekend at the Garlett household. Cade and Ella have taken up two new sports, basketball and fencing. They also had belt testing to advance to the next level of wushu. So our normally packed Friday night through Saturday night was pole to pole action. Sometimes it seems we may have too much going on with the kids. But Yan and I want to encourage our kids’ athleticism and self-confidence. It is one of those parenting lines we try to walk and are never quite sure which side we’re on.

We’ve also been trying to buy another investment property for a while. I feel like the market is changing. Inventory is low. Good deals are harder and harder to find. We’ve been putting offers out there but haven’t been able to get one accepted for quite a while. Then suddenly, out of the blue, this weekend we had three offers accepted all at once. So, a good chunk of our Sunday was spent physically inspecting each property and running and then re-running the numbers so we could whittle it down to one purchase – a lot of work but certainly a good position to be in!

Yet the highlight of the busy weekend (did I mention this weekend was busy?) was our time Sunday afternoon with Food on Foot, an organization whose motto is “Rebuilding lives one at a time.” This non-profit in Los Angeles is dedicated to helping the poor and homeless by providing meals, clothing, work training and job placement. We donated money to the program, then volunteered to help distribute food to people in need.

Yan was the driving force behind our family’s participation. And I must admit, left to my own devices, I’m sure I would have found something else to do with my Sunday afternoon, even if that something else was nothing else. But I’m so glad Yan made this happen. First of all, I love that she does things like this and pushes, pulls, and otherwise leads our family towards out-of-the-routine experiences. Secondly, I think it’s important that our children see up close and personal that not everyone shares the same comforts and privileges they possess, and I want them to observe, feel, and practice service to others. And thirdly, I was truly inspired by so many of the people I met there – from the other volunteers to the folks in the program who had hit rock bottom, lost literally everything, and yet hadn’t given up, wore big smiles on their faces, and were working incredibly hard to rebuild their lives.

I didn’t get a sense of entitlement from them. I didn’t get a sense of anger or resentment or victimhood. I did see them taking responsibility for themselves and their future. I saw genuine gratitude, appreciation, kindness, and compassion in them. I saw some of the best of humanity in these people who were living in barely human conditions. I saw hope.

I came away with a new perspective. I discovered an organization whose mission I support and whose methods I respect. I met people lifting themselves up by their bootstraps with joy in their hearts. I left humbled. I, who have everything, spend so much of my time thinking about just me and mine. Yet those I met, who have nothing, spend time every day focusing on how they can be of service to others. It’s part of the program and those successful in the program are so, in part, because they embrace and internalize that spirit of giving. I have a lot to learn from them, and I hope my children heard that simple but powerful message, too. It’s easy to make a difference in someone else’s life. It doesn’t just happen, however. We have to seek, recognize, and then act on the opportunity for kindness.

I am grateful for that reminder.
Marc Garlett 91024