The Not So Grand Scheme Of Things

On May 1, 2012 I wrote a post entitled Mayday Mayday Mayday Reason Reason Reason. Now, on May 1, 2013, in this moment, as I sit in the same spot having coffee, writing another post, the music playing through my headphones is different, but the mundane minutia of life however, is pretty much the same as it was one year ago. The laundry lists and grocery lists are the same looking forward as looking back. Fulfilling everyday commitments depends on nothing more substantial than a choice to honor myself and others. This seems at best, self-sacrificing, at worst, self-serving. Only Mother Teresa knew for certain if, in the grand scheme of things, the two are the same.

The difficulty with taking into consideration the grand scheme of things is that so many of us don’t experience grandness in our lives. Ever. Making it through childhood without being scarred for life or without screwing up so badly that it takes an entire server farm to store our permanent record, is about as grand as it gets.

Take an ordinary person of average intelligence. The grand scheme for them, beyond puberty, is what? Getting laid into their college of choice, landing that dream job, finding the love of their life in the next cubicle? Wow! How much more grand could it get, right? Buy a house, have a kid or two? Possibly create some new whiz-bang that gets them a promotion or at the very least, saves them from the first round of out-sourcing?

Let’s stretch a bit and say they make it to the gym regularly, try out for a reality TV show, get chosen for season one and don’t get voted off in the first episode.


That isn’t what happens for most of us though, is it? We caffeinate ourselves enough to trudge through a day at a job that requires little more than marginal performance and at the end of the day, lubricate for a happy hour (or three), go home, sink into a hot bath, watch the news and wonder what the hell is wrong with everybody else.

Most people don’t give a damn about their carbon footprint, corporate greed, or the poverty that occupies streets all over the planet. Nope. For most people, the small scheme of things is hard enough to handle. It’s easy to see how the grand scheme of things scares the hell out of us. For those inclined to even consider more than how to lose 10 pounds AND get rich in four hours, celebrity tweets, or their next Starbucks order, the idea of making a difference in the life of another person may seem too much to hope for. Yet there are people who do it every day.

We are all bombarded with requests to give, give, give ‘til it hurts. The thing is, there are hundreds of causes, charities, and organizations with advertising budgets so huge that donating money seems more significant than volunteering. While funding is important, I can assure you that without people dedicated to community service, willing to make an investment of their time and to some degree an emotional investment in the life of another person, nothing of significance would be accomplished.

Recently I heard a presentation given by a young man who has a passion for community service. Our paths would probably not have crossed except we are in a class together. I was so moved by what he shared with our class that I decided to check out the programs he is running, not in a state-of-the-art facility with enormous funding and a board of directors, but in a few trailers set up in a small section of a parking lot for kids to have a safe place to be after school, staffed by three employees and a few volunteers.

The community outreach center was originally put in place by the local police department  to facilitate interaction with residents in an area that has an above average crime rate in comparison to other neighborhoods. There is no public park in the area for youth recreation. So, the center is an environment where kids can play and get help with homework. It also offers space for adults interested in making a better life for themselves and their families to access GED prep and other adult learning classes at no charge.

The center relies on people skilled at coordinating a network of resources to provide assistance to what may seem to some like a small portion of the population, but it has a huge impact on the grand scheme of things. When individuals have access to recreational, educational, social, and cultural enrichment, their communities thrive. In thriving communities there is less violence. Less violence means more public resources can be used to benefit the population as a whole.

Attempting to improve the quality of life for the entire population of the planet is too daunting a task. It’s that grand scheme thing again. It makes little difference what rhetoric we use – the ripple effect or the trickle down effect or pay it forward – in the grand scheme, talk is cheap, it’s the doing that makes all the difference.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some suggestions.

First, take a breath. Think about your own life experience. What do you know how to do that may be easy for you, but seemingly impossible for someone who doesn’t have a support system, computer, driver’s license, a job, or if they could get a job, a babysitter? Think about your own resources. What do you have to offer besides worn out clothes and obsolete electronics that could empower someone else? Think about your own priorities. What do you want to improve in yourself, your community, your world?

That’s just for starters.

You are not alone. You have value and you can make a difference. That’s all any of us really wants to know. It is my privilege to know so many people willing to offer hope to others.

41 thoughts on “The Not So Grand Scheme Of Things

  1. Changing the world in bite-sized bits makes perfect sense. I think putting an expectation out there that is so large that it intimidates can actually keep us from moving forward – we miss opportunities to make real change in real individual lives. Great message, my friend.

    1. Thanks Lorri. Committing to a volunteer opportunity can be a challenge for people who have a job, family, and other responsibilities. I think it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t take much to show someone we care. Being present for our kids, helping out a neighbor or simply listening to a friend is HUGE in terms of making a positive impact.

      1. It’s so true. I did a stint with International Friendships once. One day a week for 6 months helping an international student practice speaking English. It was rewarding in both sides. Our simple view of the world is so limited.

  2. What the F, lady. Every time I think I’ve maxed out on how much I could love you, you go and write a post that makes me love you even more. You nail it here, sister. Grand aspirations can scare the hell out of people because they’re overwhelming, they feel undoable. Taking action on a smaller scale is no less important. Public service of any kind is worthwhile and if it can inspire others to do public service, even better. Think global, act local!

    1. I never knew when I declared 2013: The Year of Something Better that such a wonderful friendship would blossom. Thank you Madame!
      You’re right, feeling overwhelmed often prevents us from taking that first step. I think too that the experience of being underwhelmed can make us think twice about putting ourselves out there. We just have to try until we find what works. That is different for everyone, but so worth the effort whether we actually see the result of our efforts or not.

  3. This was a truly moving post Honie. Generosity of spirit is as important as dollars. And maybe sometimes it’s a whole lot more important.

  4. ”Fulfilling everyday commitments depends on nothing more substantial than a choice to honor myself and others. This seems at best, self-sacrificing, at worst, self-serving. Only Mother Teresa knew for certain if, in the grand scheme of things, the two are the same.” – I like this.

    I’m currently working every so very seldom at the local orphanage, just general stuff and art classes. I’m learning a lot. The kids aren’t necessarily falling over grateful for all the attention … they often snub my efforts when I’m being particularly patronizing and I’ve had to sit back and think how to really get and keep their attention. It’s making me grow too.

    1. I’m grateful to you for your comment and that you found meaning in that particular statement.
      One thing I find to be consistent in situations where there are deep wounds, such as an orphanage or women’s shelter, is that people don’t want pity or to think of themselves as charity cases. They want/need respect for their dignity. Kids especially need to know we aren’t just there to fill up our own good deed buckets, someone else who will end up disappointing them. An emotional investment is difficult for anyone to make. It’s probably the most difficult part of volunteering. It does make our capacity for understanding grow.

      1. I’ve surprised more than once at the kids’ capacity of insight into one’s motives. It’s humbling.

  5. “and wonder what the hell is wrong with everybody else.” I laughed loud enough that I had to repeat this out loud at home so everyone else could chuckle too. Thanks for the laugh.

    Grand or not, my life is good(because I choose it to be). Being GRAND really is as simple as figuring out what resources you have and sharing those. For me it is teaching self defense. I took a class in college, used the moves to get away from a drunk frat boy soon after, and that became simply a memory in my past. Fast forward a decade and my 2 years volunteering and working at a DV/SA center I decided to get certified to teach self defense. Now I volunteer around the community at different organizations. Every day I get to teach a class feels like a grand day.

    ….As I continue to toot my own horn, if anyone wants to check out my blog post today, you will see how I am making it grander for others. It is a program where I will be giving away prizes every other month to people who volunteer.

    1. Leah,
      Thanks for laughing. It was truly my intent for that to be funny and I’m so glad to know you picked up on that. I love that you have chosen to take action in your life and that your choice spills into the lives of others. !!!! 🙂

  6. This was a great post. I’ll be the first to admit to feeling like my life is just average, nothing special, like i should be doing more. But it’s really so,easy to make a difference. Coach a team, be a Scout leader, volunteer at a food kitchen, help out elderly. So many possibilities. And so many of us are already doing these things, we just don’t realize the impact it is having.

    1. You are so right! Parents being involved in the lives of their own children is a HUGE. So is knowing our neighbors and paying attention to what’s going on in our communities for more than just bitching and complaining about what is lacking. Identifying needs (our own and those of others) is only part of the solution. Tapping into resources can be something as simple as asking the right questions to get to the root of an issue. Sometimes people without a support system don’t know there are people willing to help them to better help themselves. The average person has opportunities to impact the lives of others in positive ways more often than we realize. Moments of grandness (teachable moments) happen all the time. Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. At first I was like, Gee Honie, this is a depressing post for the first day of May… but then you turned it upside down and truly inspired me. I think that service, at the end of the proverbial day, is what will ultimately make our lives GRAND. It’s simple and so true. Service is what’s going to make us happy in our lives.
    Have you ever been to Lynne’s blog at, Free Penny Press? She recently wrote a similar post about different experimental programs being offered at inner city community centers and how it was turning the youth around. She writes about this very topic often and is plugged into different organizations that can help get the ball rolling. She’s a wealth of info. You’d love her.
    I think people thrive when they feel their lives have significant and meaningful purpose. That’s the answer.
    Great post. Sorry for the ramble!

    1. Lisa,
      I will check out Lynne’s blog. Thanks for the info. Maybe I should have written: “read last year’s post first”. What I wanted to convey is that it all comes down to our choices. Some days I feel so inadequate and then the whole thing turns around when I discover amazing people doing their best with what they’ve got. That may be someone taking a leap of faith in themselves to offer assistance or to ask for it. Either way when that kind of exchange is happening it’s a win/win for us all.
      As you can probably tell, if you’ve read much of my writing, I’ve been disgusted and overwhelmed by the violence that permeates our society. The fact that it’s not all random crazy shit, but that most of it has a traceable and preventable cause – poverty, fear, ignorance – is what makes me think that if we can identify the cause of a problem, we can identify a solution. You are so right, Lisa. Significance and meaningful purpose is key. Another idea is that self-government doesn’t require bazillions of tax dollars. That’s a message I’d like to see a leader put out there for the purpose of doing something besides playing the blame game. See…I ramble too. 🙂

      1. I completely agree about self government. Why is it so obvious, it’s like the biggest no brainier of them all. I see what you’re saying about the exchange and the win- win. Yes! The fact that it’s all so preventable and here we are living in times of tremendous intelligence and technology, yet we haven’t managed to curb these tendencies makes me sick. Maybe in our lifetime….?

  8. This post makes me feel sad and guilty, and yet at the same time energized. Just goes to show how much more I could be doing than I am. Thanks for making me search my soul a bit, Honie. I think. 😉

    1. Oh Carrie, please know that it was not my intent to make anyone feel sad or guilty. How can I fix this? You are such a giver. All I’m saying here is that no matter how small our efforts may seem to us, they add up to something larger than ourselves. We sometimes talk ourselves out of doing anything because we are so overwhelmed by it all.

      1. Just one more thing. I think it’s important not to discount the value of people taking responsibility for improving their own lives. All the assistance in the world can’t take the place of the self-esteem someone gains from achieving a goal through their own efforts. 🙂

        1. True. I got my reminder last night. 🙂 I’m always humbled when I come across someone who is dedicated to public service. Real public service, not the kind that gets them secret service protection and a pension and world class healthcare.

  9. I think the “little” things we do in our lives can make a big impact on someone else’s. The things we consider minutia can actually be part of the grand-scheme-of-things in a different context. Hope is a very valued commodity – if we can share this we’re bettering everyone. Pay it forward, right?

    1. Absolutely. The not-so-grand can end up being bigger than anything we ever expected. For instance, in the not so grand scheme of one person’s day to day activity, a chain reaction of awesomeness can make a difference they never even thought possible.

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