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.