It is impossible to not be inspired by this photo. Zelenskyy and Andres, brothers in spirit, leaders who inspire; stellar human beings who humble us, show incredible courage and strength, and who give of themselves for what most of us see as right and just. Americans are so incredibly fortunate to live where we live, and to enjoy the opportunities that abound if we invest of ourselves and work to reap the benefits of a nation that understands and relishes the responsibility to protect its citizens. This is not the case throughout the world, as is noted in Ukraine. While many Americans prepare to celebrate over the holidays and chefs and cooks test their skills in restaurants from coast to coast, many people in Ukraine and in other oppressed parts of the world wonder where their next meal will come from, if there will be heat in their homes, and if they will have homes and jobs to return to at the end of the day. On the streets of many cities throughout our own country there is an increasing number of homeless people, including children who struggle to make it through another day of living on the streets, and in nations ruled by dictators and religious zealots, many wonder if their lives will be taken for speaking their mind or refusing to conform to restrictions based on gender, race, or political beliefs.
Then, as has been the case throughout history, a few incredibly focused and honorable individuals rise up to show us the way, to try and make things right, to show respect for others and raise the flag of democracy and equality. Such is the case with Volodymyr Zelenskyy who from unlikely beginnings as an actor and comedian, won a democratic election defying the odds to do so. He turned out to be the right person at the right time – a leader of and for the people of Ukraine, a spokesperson and ambassador on the world stage, a heroic symbol of hope and determination who cheers on a strong people willing to give everything to protect their rights as human beings. When he spoke before Congress he did not chastise those who have so much when his people have so little during a time of war; instead he praised our lifestyle because we too fought to get to where we are and continue to support what needs to be done to protect what was gained through the blood, sweat, and tears of our forefathers, our military strength, our compassion as a country, and our unity through a democratic process. This is what he and the people of Ukraine are fighting for.
Throughout the world there are too many examples of tyranny, despair, hate, and destruction imposed by a few who seek power. There are daily examples of tragedy and destruction when Mother Nature chooses to raise her fist with the might of hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and floods. Sometimes it is hard to watch the news or read the daily paper. When many of us turn the page and shake our heads, a smaller number of heroic individuals stand up and ask: “What can I do to help.” Such is the case with Chef Jose Andres and his incredible organization: World Central Kitchen. Before a military can be activated to help, before the Red Cross arrives on the scene, and before the media can fully develop a story, World Central Kitchen is there, setting up kitchens, hosting volunteers, welcoming chefs, and cooks, and finding ways to navigate the feeding of tens of thousands who are impacted by violence or the wrath of the elements. It’s hard to contemplate. Even the most accomplished chefs scratch their heads and wonder how it is possible to organize and effectively navigate all the challenges that are presented, yet they do and Jose Andres, like President Volodymyr Zelenskyy manages to be that guiding light, the voice of inspiration, and the world ambassadors to make things happen when others view the task as impossible.
While many of us shake our heads and sigh at the plight of the homeless, or those who simply struggle with their human condition, there are always those who stand up and say: “What can I do to help.” The problems will not self-correct unless we all are aware and willing to do something to help. Zelenskyy praised every American for helping Ukraine for it is our tax dollars that help to provide what the Ukrainian people need. There are many more who give additional when they can, just as there are many who write a check and help to support World Central Kitchen. Not everyone needs to push aside their jobs and family and get on a plane to help feed the needy in Europe, Africa, the Islands, or anywhere where people suffer; but we do need to find a way to help. It might be a check for $10 or at the very least mental, emotional, and spiritual support for what is needed. It might be a few hours before the holidays helping out in a soup kitchen or giving an older winter jacket, scarf or gloves to a homeless person or buying a few extra groceries for a family who may not be able to afford tonight’s meal.
It’s hard to look at this photo without being inspired to help, or without marveling at the decency and generosity of some and the innate ability to lead that a few possess. It is impossible to ignore what real leadership is and know that this is what the world needs.
When you sit around your table this holiday season or before you open the doors to your restaurant and welcome in those guests seeking the chance to celebrate all that they have, take a moment to think about this photo, what it means, and how in the days to come, you can find your own way to help and give thanks for our good fortune. Take a moment to thank those who have made it possible for us to celebrate as we do, to breathe fresh air, to work and earn a living, to enjoy a warm house and a well-prepared meal, and to know that we have the ability to make our own choices, speak our minds, and live the life of freedom.
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