Friday, August 19, 2005

Yes, I'm reflecting again ...

I used to think I was meant to be a part of something big. Something that would change the world.

I wanted to be an artist. A writer. A musician. Not necessarily famous by name or face, but known abstractly. “Oh yeah, the lady who wrote blah-blah”, or “Those paintings! You know them the minute you see them, they just have that something.” I wanted to make people stop dead in their tracks and contemplate. Most of all I wanted to feel that I had left a piece of myself in those that I came across.

In my youth I was in a garage band, and we put together some pretty good stuff. But we never went anywhere. I wrote. A lot. Poetry, prose, short novels, analyses. I got A’s in every writing class I ever took. I never sent a manuscript to anyone. I went to a prestigious art college. I sucked the marrow out of life there, and in turn the marrow was sucked out of me. Never would one believe the creative process would be so exhausting, and the pursuit of cultivating it so strenuous.

A common discussion art students have with “outsiders”:

Oh, you go to art school?
So, you can draw?
Yes …
That must be pretty easy, going to art school.

By the time I graduated, I felt as though my creative soul had given birth to a herd of rhinoceros. I just needed to rest. I now have a career in accounting. I live comfortably. I have wondered from time to time if I sold out.

The thing they don’t tell you when you cook up your big dreams in youth (or perhaps we just choose not to hear) is that in the process of living, life tends to get in the way. Before I could get out of town to the place I wanted to be, I ran out of money at the hands of paying for my lofty college education. By the time I got some scratch together, I’d fallen in love and gotten married. Then divorced, and back to having nothing again. Then under construction – Remarried - And so it goes.

With time and trials comes wisdom, and as I grew older and more seasoned, my vision of what was really important as far as imprinting the human race changed. My compassion morphed from utopian to a small-bite, close to home approach. Big differences don’t always seem big at first glance. I think this epiphany first hit me in my teens. I was involved in the youth choir and ensemble with my church. We took a mission trip to Florida, and one of our performances was at the state prison. We were all a little nervous, being fresh-faced kids and having close contact with convicted felons. After our performance, we were to meet with inmates to talk with them. If we were nervous before, this really got us skittish. But it was nothing like any of us expected.

I met Fred that day. I don’t know what Fred was in for. But we prayed for his mother together. She was very ill, and Fred’s face was twisted with worry for her. After we prayed, Fred’s entire body conveyed an air of peace it didn’t have before. He thanked me and smiled. I often wonder what became of Fred and his mother, but I know that I, a young girl from across the country, made a difference in his life that day.

Several years ago my mother asked me if I would help her with something. She is a Girl Scout leader, and her co-lead quit mid-year. My Mom needed help with her troop. I wasn’t in love with the idea – it would involve going all the way across town after a long day at the office, to wrangle with inner city girls from broken homes with discipline and attitude problems. But I did it. It was trying, but these girls needed positive role models. And once they felt me out, I could see the changes taking place in many of them, just from having adults in their lives who cared enough to guide them and help them begin to tap into their potential. I too, after getting to know them, found myself way more smitten with them than I ever expected. I genuinely cared about making a difference in their lives and did my best to plant small seeds of self-respect and self-worth in these girls who got a rough start in life.

My church is heavily involved in outreach ministry, and one of the prominent divisions involves providing comfort and compassion for those with HIV and AIDS. A few years ago the Project organized a Christmas banquet and needed volunteers. I experienced an overpowering pull to get involved with this. In a debate class in school my small group was once given the question, “Should AIDS patients be quarantined?” This was back in the ‘80’s, when little was known about AIDS and everyone was frightened by the very notion. What I learned in my research in preparing for the debate changed my views about it forever. Compassion replaced retraction, and there it remained. The Christmas dinner opportunity seemed to reach into me and pull that back out.

I humbly served turkey to hundreds in a buffet line. Most were no different in appearance or attitude to anyone you may come across with any day. But some were different. Some had a look in their eye that I can only compare with those in the eyes of abandoned pets that had to forge a life on the mean streets for too long. I thought a lot about how lonely it must be, to be sick and no one, not even your family, will talk to you, much less even touch your hand in comfort. How they must be starving for human contact, for just a little acknowledgment that anyone cares for them. After dinner I visited with a few of the guests, particularly drawn to the "sad" ones. We laughed, we shared. We hugged. While some reacted more instantaneously than others, each melted into the hug like a child. They have stayed with me these many years since.

For now my schedule as well as my general sulky mood dictate that I am self-absorbed. But my thoughts do turn outward as well. I think about getting my teaching degree. I think about becoming a den mother when the boy gets older.

I still think I was meant to be a part of something big. I rather consider that I already am. My perspective of what “big” is has simply changed a little from what it used to be.


sidetrack said...

I was moved by this entry. Reminds me that we're all in this together and that no gesture of kindness is too small or too big. I think I write to get at that tender place that gets lost in my struggle to keep my armor in place, to protect what little I have managed to become in this life.

Bainwen Gilrana said...

Have you read of St. Therese of Lisieux? Her philosophy was much the same-- that it is in the little things we do that we best serve God.

I write a monthly article for my church's newsletter, and one of the themes that keeps recurring in these is that the little things may be huge. A recent one focused on St. Stephen, who was full of the Spirit and "did deeds of grace and power." Yet his work was to go among the sick and the poor, to bring them bread and comfort them. These were little things, surely: the Apostles chose Stephen for this work so that they could go about the "more important" work of preaching and teaching the Gospel. Yet I would say that to the people whose lives were touched by Stephen's grace, his deeds were not little at all. One simple kindness might mean the world to someone else. We have no way of knowing. :-)