Before I get into today’s topic I want to take a moment to explain how I determine what I’m going to talk about. Once upon a time I was a champion sleeper. I’d go to bed at 10pm, fall immediately to sleep and wake up well rested about 7am. Those days are now very few and very far apart. Now I have what I like to think of as irregular insomnia. Some nights I lay away for an hour or more unable to fall asleep, others I’m awake for a few hours in the middle of the night. And then there are the ones where I wake at 4am and can’t go back to sleep. Whatever time this happens I find my mind turns on and I just think. Lately the thinking has led me to these topics I’ve been discussing. Is it divine inspiration or is it just my brain is overly exhausted? I have no idea. I’m just going with it.
While I was laying awake unable to sleep my mind was processing like it always does. I often think about the past or an issue I’m trying to work out. Many times I can use something from the past to see a way to move forward on an issue I’m trying to work past. Out of nowhere I was reminded of a string of events from my life and my brain put them together in a way I hadn’t thought of before: Service.
There is no greater gift we can give each other than ourselves. I learned that as a child I think during my very short stint in Catholic school or maybe it was my even shorter stint as a Girl Scout. Either way this little lesson which really is a huge thing has rattled around in my brain without me consciously thinking about it. I’ve just been living my life.
When I was in junior high my grandmother (my mother’s mother who’d had an incredibly difficult life: parents died when she was 16, separated from her siblings, brother murdered when she was in her 20’s, husband died young) had a stroke. It was a pretty devastating one. She lost complete use of the right side of her body and much of her ability to speak. My mother and I visited her every day in the hospital and continued to do so when she’d been moved to a rehab facility. While visiting I learned that teenagers were allowed to volunteer and this just hit me as a great thing to do since I was there for hours each week. I took the training class and spent the remaining time my grandmother was a patient volunteering. I don’t know if I had much of an impact on anyone but this had a big impact on me.
As other volunteer opportunities became available I took them. A favorite took place when I was in high school. My psychology class required a few hours of community service. We were given a list of opportunities and I decided to spend time in the special ed contained classroom at the elementary school that was nearby. I had no idea what to expect. The teacher wanted me to work on math with two little girls. I suggested teaching them cribbage as a way to work on addition. She thought this was a great idea. I recruited a friend who had a study at the time and we spent the rest of the semester teaching the girls cribbage. I remember it being something I looked forward to and greatly enjoyed.
I find it surprising how little tiny events from childhood can have a huge impact later. I’m talking about little things that last for a few minutes not something huge and devastating. I can remember watching the baby lift from Vietnam as the war was ending. There was something about that few minutes of tv that stuck in my head. It’s really just a still shot at this point. I remember thinking I could do that. Mind you I didn’t really understand but still my mind was opened at that moment. When The Husband and I met and began talking in ways that mattered. While we were looking at each other’s life plans and goals we talked about adoption. It was a non negotiable for me. He was open to the idea. At that point I knew we could have a life together. 19 years later N arrived at Logan airport. I’ve never thought of adopting as service until today. I’ve always been much more selfish: N is my child. The moment I saw his photo I recognized him from a dream I’d had when I was pregnant with H. I dreamt I was holding a dark haired child with olive skin in my arms. I could only see the back of his head and how his arm hugged my shoulder. When I woke up I thought to myself well, that’s weird because I know that the baby I’m carrying has red hair. I don’t know how I knew but I did.
As an adult my service has been to my family. They’re my life’s work. I cared for my children when they were young. I cared for my parents as they aged. I did all I could so The Husband could provide while he served in the military.
There were other volunteer opportunities too: Teacher’s helper, Girl Scout leader, Cub Scout helper. I’ve knit for children in the hospital and made hats for the homeless even a balaclava for the military.
I guess what I’m trying to say is what matters to me more than anything else is others. Being able to do for someone else, no matter how small an act, matters. I’m going to consciously look for ways to be of service in the future.