What Really Matters

by Joan Garry

Today, the most important thing is perspective.

This is not a typical post for me. But yesterday was not a typical day. Not for America and not in my family.

I’d like to talk about the intersections of those things and maybe help you to think about your own loved ones, your life, your community, and the lives you touch in a way that puts yesterday’s election results in perspective.

My mother is a feisty, irascible 89 year old – sharp as a tack. Tough as nails. <insert hackneyed phrase here>

She went in for surgery to contend with a pacemaker that needed to be removed and placed elsewhere.

My mom survived but whatever else could go wrong did. As I write this, she is on a respirator in the ICU at a great hospital. We can rest soundly knowing she’s in great hands.

This is not what she would want. She had a DNR and every imaginable document to keep from prolonging her life but no document could keep doctors from doing what they do best – save lives. We are now going to take it day by day.

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing for perspective.


My wife Eileen was the Chief Programming Executive at the Food Network from 1997-2005. She brought us Ina Garten, Rachel Ray, Iron Chef. You name it. She understands the central role that food plays in our lives.

After 9/11, she said in what appeared to be a non sequitur, “Williams Sonoma will not be able to keep roasting pans on their shelves.”

I wasn’t following.

“Families will focus inward – on what’s important – each other. They will nest. They will roast chickens and come together.”

I got it. And as she so often is, she was right. Roasting pans flew off shelves.


Here’s what I hope you take away.

Control what YOU can control. Clearly controlling Donald Trump is not high on the list of the controllable. Nor are so many things in politics. There are ecstatic Trump supporters among my readers and devastated Hillary supporters too. And maybe nothing will be quite as bad as the ugliest campaign I can ever remember. I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

  • I have a family so empathetic, kind, wonderful, smart funny, and colorful – I have no idea how I got so lucky.
  • I have the most wonderful brothers and their wives are kind, good hearted and generous. They have the nicest grown kids and a world of children who bring me joy and hope when I see them in person or on Facebook.
  • I do work that helps others solve problems in their communities. Feeding the homeless, offering free legal advice for those who need it, educating our kids to be empathic, global citizens of the world, researching to end disease. I can continue to do this work regardless of who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


We don’t know what’s in store but we do know this. Nonprofits were created to fill gaps that government couldn’t or wouldn’t fill. And that most certainly feels more important today than it did before Election Day.

You, more than any other folks I know, have a mission. You have a way to channel the uncertainty. If you voted for Trump, you have a mandate to do more if the government will do less.

And most importantly, you have the remarkable opportunity to work to change the part of the world that you can actually control. Your community, your animal welfare shelter in your town, your food pantry.

You can use your bully pulpit as a person of faith to remind people that our society is made of families and communities and when these are strong, so too is our country. Regardless of who occupies the White House.

I do hope you will remember this today and in the days to come. Remember, your work is about repairing the world – in ways large and small.

And we need this kind of work now more than ever.


No regrets. Call your family. Stay in touch with them even if they annoy you from time to time. I myself am off shortly to the ICU to read my mom the new Carol Burnett book. I hope she can hear me.

Invite your friends and family to dinner and don’t talk politics. Talk about what we can control to make the world a more generous and compassionate place.

And besides, I hear there is going to be a sale on roasting pans at Williams Sonoma.

55 thoughts on “What Really Matters”

  1. Thanks so much, Joan. I spent the morning crying and now I’m taking a deep breath and pulling out the soup pot.

  2. Thank you for this. I just sat in the chapel where I work and wept. I need to make phone calls but I am having a hard time getting the words to come. Your words are comforting. Blessings to you and your family.

  3. Thank you for these words today. I am still the same hopeful optimist, passionately living my life, serving the greater good. I believe in change from within and this country is my home. I am not going anywhere. When I see injustice I will speak up. When I hear a lie passed as truth, I will call it out. When I witness kind acts I will celebrate them. As JFK said “A rising tide lifts all boats.” We must continue to go high because our children are watching. Joan, I hope your mother is comfortable and your family is at peace.

  4. thanks, Joan. golden light and good thoughts for your Mum. adn hte perspective very helpful on this morning of shock, heartbreak and fear. be well.

  5. Thank you so much for this. We all need this reminder after these current events. Blessings to you and your family.

  6. Definitely read to that person in an ICU. I did so for a friend who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Reading to someone is a genuine expression of love. There were moments when my friend was able to indicate that he knew I was there.

  7. Joan, I am certain your mom can hear you. My best to her and to you and your family in what I’m sure is a challenging and scary time.
    Your post was just what I needed. As I said to my nonprofit colleagues this AM via email “I am working, working, working as I don’t know what else to do.” I know that I can instrument change by doing so.

  8. Dear Joan, This article touched my heart and is the sentiment of my heart today. I have already had several discussions concerning the election, and my response to all was “We have to carry on now, do the best we can, and be people of understanding and compassion.” I lost my Mom in March to melanoma in her lungs, after she had lived with my wife, Sandee, and me for four years. Taking it day by day is all you can do. And, if you need a virtual shoulder to cry on, Facebook or call me. I am the pastor in Wilton Manors with whom you’ve conversed before. 954-701-0084, or Leslie Rutland-Tipton (The Healthy Pastor) on Facebook.
    Carry on, faithful servant!!

  9. oh my gosh, I JUST sent a text to my smartest, kindest, oldest friends to say “let’s kvetch for 30 minutes – with lots of wine and cussing – then talk late into the night about what we can do to make our community a better place.” Most of us already volunteer but we can do more. Double-down on compassion.

  10. Joan, Take care of yourself and loved ones. This nation is not perfect but everyone working in the nonprofit sector knows there are plenty of people filled with love and hope in the world too.
    This morning I was compelled to pen the letter below to CityScience staff. I’d be interested to know how other leaders are responding.
    Dear Colleagues,
    This morning I received a few messages from some of you expressing different forms of deep sadness. While I fully respect everyones right to their political opinion, I too am deeply saddened by the results of last night’s election. Some of you choose to take personal time today. Please take care of yourselves and take care of those around you who have a sickening feeling that a hateful America is not for you.
    I have found a bit of comfort in MLK’s quote, “the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.” Then comfort is crushed remembering he was assassinated. Then crushed further thinking how the Black Panthers were stereotyped and misunderstood. Then crushed further thinking about how Black Lives Matter supporters must feel on a day like this. And these are only a few mileposts in Black America’s long arc struggling to climb to a higher moral universe. Climbing inch by inch to a different stratosphere of the universe is daunting. But we are doing it and now is the time when we need to climb harder.
    Everyday in some small way we are doing “it” together. We are serving kids, the environment, and the most valuable weapon of all against hate and ignorance – teachers. So when you come back into the office or set foot in your next school. Be proud of your efforts. Be ready to answer some tough questions, too.
    I can’t help but think of the middle schoolers in Ozone Park doing LEGO robotics. Normal Muslim teenagers who get the message in so many ways that they are the unwanted, hateful and un American ones. This crap couldn’t be farther from the truth. These kids are kids – and we have to let them know they are loved and welcome in our after-school programs and that there are many good people in their country too.
    I also think of my daughter, in kindergarten and so excited by Hillary. Paradoxically, so confused as to why “a mean person would be chosen leader.” I think of my wife and her sister, both tremendously successful women committed to serving artists and creating affordable housing respectively.
    I think of my LGBQT friends, and how tremendously successful they have been, and how far they have to go, in their struggle for equal rights and love in our culture.
    I am a privileged white man. And along with the color of my skin, my education education, and connections – I am also a man with a lot of responsibility. As we go forward making STEM education more just, I hope that you will share how you are feeling with your colleagues and with me. I welcome your personal experiences and ideas because more light on these matters is necessary to achieve our maximum impact. By developing an innovate approach to urban STEM education, we are addressing injustice in our education system and developing pathways to access careers in industries often criticized as male, white, and willfully ignorant of how valuable diversity of all types can be.
    Stay strong but take time to embrace all of your emotions. The most powerful actions will come from a grounded place. When you emerge, remember you are not alone and that your work is bending the arc of the moral universe closer toward justice.
    In regard to tonight, most of you replied that you will join us for our staff dinner. I look forward to seeing you and invite a friend if you like. Food arrives at 5. No work just social. My apologies if you can’t join us, next time we will find a better date for everyone.
    Ever forward,

  11. Thank you for your wonderful sentiments. Sending thoughts of care to your Mom and family. Please care for yourself.
    I do have a question following this election, however. Is anyone else concerned about what this election may mean for funding for your organization? My crystal ball is a bit fractured at this point; however, I’m concerned. Thoughts?

  12. LOVE this Joan, thank you so much! You really lifted my spirits!
    FYI, there’s a wee typo in the post…it’s “Williams-Sonoma” 🙂
    Carry on, non-profit warriors!

  13. We have to believe that old mantra that “everything happens for a reason.” We just have to. We may not know why right now, but in time it will all make sense.
    What this country needs right now is unity, not more divisiveness. It’s up to us to set that tone. And that can only come from the acceptance that everything happens for a reason. Everything.

  14. Thank you, as always, for your wisdom and encouragement. It was a tough day for me but not as tough as yours. My mom is about your mom’s age. She has Parkinson’s and lives in Assisted Living. She complained to me that she was “surrounded by old people and Republicans!” I laughed and told her not to let it get her down. That was last night. I will pray for your mom and for you. My daughter bought me the new Carol Burnett book. My mom and I always watched the show together. I don’t know you, Joan, but you have blessed me many times over with your blogs and articles. Keep on keepin’ on.

  15. I’ll keep it coming. A friend used to say, “I have you in my pocket”, and I found that comforting when I was facing tough times. and there you are.

  16. Joan,
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family – rest assured your Mom can hear you!!!
    Thanks for all you do. You are a Rock Star in the non profit world!

  17. We’ve been talking in our household about the the possible reason(s) being that we needed to have the lid blown off the hatred, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny in our country. Like bad plumbing! No one deals with it until we are up to ankles in…yeah.

  18. Joan, you and I are worlds apart on some critical social issues, BUT those were GREAT words and thoughts! Hope your Mom recovers well. Blessings.

  19. Joan, thanks for these timely words of wisdom. I needed them. I spent some time this morning worrying about the future of our non-profit and what I could/should do. Perspective – such an awesome and sometimes elusive concept yet so amazingly necessary. Exactly what I needed today. Thanks.
    I’ll be saying a few prayers for your Mom, you and your family. I’ll also remind my husband we new a new roasting pan !

  20. C. Minor. The Carol Burnett book is good. LIke putting on a really comfy pair of pajamas. Enjoy it. And your mom sounds just as feisty as mine. Except she IS a republican so she’d be in good company 🙂

  21. Rick. Your comment really stuck with me. I try so hard to write for everyone who works in the public sector regardless of our ideological differences. Thanks for sticking with this flaming liberal who cares about all the good work folks do. And thank you for your kind words about my mom.

Leave a Comment