This week I met an older gentleman at an event. During a brief book discussion, I mentioned I was training to be a yoga teacher. He excitedly explained he had been one for 25 years.
After the event he spoke to me about teaching yoga. Deep down I knew what he said to me was true but I had never verbalized the thoughts. I stood in awe as he summed up exactly what you need to do as a teacher in ten minutes. His students would often come to him and ask “How did you do that?” He generously shared his secret with me.
This was experience talking.
We need to be reminded that many have gone before us and completed the exact same endeavor we are attempting. They give us the gift of wisdom.
He started by saying “Don’t be afraid.” We all experience times of fear and doubt so these are the most encouraging words you can offer.
As I continue on my journey, I’m depending on many people to share their knowledge with me. This includes my students, especially my husband who provides feedback to me on all my home classes.
If you seek to learn with an open heart, you’ll learn in each mindful moment from those with years of experience and those with none.
I’m thankful for these gifts from everyone.
Months after our vacation to Acadia National Park, I’m still struck by the astounding beauty of the rocky shorelines and mountain peaks. But another thought has grown in my mind and brought me to action.
During one of our tours, the guide explained that over the years Acadia National Park was pieced together with donations of property. One individual gave away 4,000 acres of this prime real estate.
The wealthy bought this property for their own use. Far from civilization and unique to the East Coast, the mountain views of the Atlantic Ocean were unsurpassed. During the 1800′s expansive hotels were built close to the shorelines. If people had not given the land away, one can only imagine the developed sprawl which would have been built. Those hotels from 200 years ago are large, even by today’s standards.
So why to you give away 4,000 acres? That’s a lot of property and a lot of money.
For some this public purpose to save this pristine place for future generations trumped any future financial deals. All the donors would have had to love this place more than their wealth. Perhaps for some, this was small potatoes compared to everything they owned, but it’s still a sacrifice.
Since we came home from vacation, my husband and I have made the largest one-time donation on record for our family. It felt good to give the money and I understood how it might feel to make a bigger donation. We could make a difference. This isn’t anywhere near what we dream of doing, but it’s a first step as I aspire to give away my 4,000 acres.
I can’t help by feel overwhelming appreciation for all the people who made Acadia a reality as its beauty still lightens my spirit and their generosity challenges my selfishness.
Yesterday I had the honor of attending the ribbon cutting for an apartment building. A nonprofit organization was able to purchase a vacant, foreclosed property in a neighborhood suffering from blight and renovate the building to provide homes for four families experiencing homelessness. Not only was this small apartment building going to help the four families, it could also begin to improve conditions on the street and eventually turn things around for the whole neighborhood.
One of the new residents attended the ceremony and was able to see her apartment for the first time. She had been living in a shelter with her baby in a Pack ‘n Play next to her. The apartment was small, but it had been completely furnished by two local decorators who volunteered to bring the community together, collect items, and produce a fantastic-looking apartment.
The mom was overwhelmed when she saw the baby’s room. The darling pink draping and hanging toy were sweet. After being shown a trendy living room and fully-stocked pantry, she was emotional when she saw all the special details for her baby.
Now I find myself remembering my first pregnancy. My husband worked for the World Bank. When he had to go on an extended trip to Thailand, I felt very alone. Even though it was temporary, I couldn’t help but imagine how terrible it would be if he didn’t come back. We owned a nice little house. I had friends and family. Even with all this support, I couldn’t fathom being all by myself and having a child.
So I find myself thinking about how she must have felt to be alone in that shelter with a little one depending on her. I don’t really know what it feels like to have nothing I could call my own, to have my life filled with such uncertainty. But I saw what it felt like to walk into an apartment and be given a chance for a good, stable life because strangers cared enough to make it happen. The gratitude and love of that powerful moment was overwhelming.
The decorators put a sign in her bedroom window which said “Dream”. Now that she has the dignity of a home, she can.
Last week I spoke with elementary school students about homelessness. Every class I visit is always attentive for their “special guest” and our conversations can be an insightful treat. One second grade boy stopped me in my tracks when he asked “What would happen if there were no volunteers?” I find myself returning to his question every day.
When I first answered him, I spoke about the concrete tasks which occur each day. We wouldn’t have any meals to serve to the men at the shelter. We wouldn’t have career training and computer programs, special activities, or dental visits. Then I started to consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by those who care and the subsequent lack of funding for our programs. By the end of the session we all agreed many people would be a lot worse off in their lives if people didn’t volunteer.
The question comes to me at a troublesome time in my life. Lately I spend large portions of my days fantasizing about my life without volunteering. I dream about what I would do if I selfishly didn’t lead my cub scout pack, volunteer at church, run events at my son’s school, and chair a city commission. I could work on my career aspirations and take time for my artwork while still having plenty of time for my family. My life would be all about me. But often the emails fill my box causing me to spend hours organizing and directing successful programs while my personal “to do” list lays unviewed.
At a pivotal point in my life, the boy has forced me to imagine every single part of our community without volunteers. I picture our church with only four paid staff and no one helping at worship services or doing youth service projects. I imagine my son’s teachers all alone in school without parents copying, making boards, and tutoring kids. How empty the halls would be without decorations and how much less the kids would learn. There would be no scouting. There would be no city commissions or programs at the senior center. The food drives and recreation programs would disappear. Our community landscape would be a dried up and barren filled with loneliness and suffering. No one would be living up to their full potential. This process has caused me to realize we all take volunteers for granted because it is impossible to fully picture a world without them.
Starting on October 25, 2009 ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and several cable channels will air more than 90 shows with volunteerism written into the scripts. USA Today lists the programs participating in this i Participate campaign by the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Obviously all inspired by President and Mrs. Obama’s continuing emphasis on volunteering to serve, the initiative gives me some personal hope. If more people help, my burden will become more manageable. For the people who dodge their responsibilities or do the absolute minimum once per year, I hope they will be inspired to do more.
When we think about our lives and all the groups, activities, and programs which are important, we need to ask ourselves “What would happen if there were no volunteers?” If the program is meaningful to you, then you must bring your community to life.
After church started on Easter Sunday, an Asian man in his 30’s sat down in the pew in front of me. I had the feeling he was homeless but it wasn’t obvious. I handed him my bulletin and showed him where we were. When it came time for the offering, I couldn’t help but watch. I worried because if I was right about him, this could be an uncomfortable situation. He opened his wallet and all I could see was a coupon and two dollars. He pulled out the two dollars and put them in the offering plate.
We all know about the parable of the woman giving her small amount in the temple showing far more love than the rich man who gave a larger amount but a smaller fraction of his wealth. I had witnessed the real thing. While I thought selfish thoughts on his behalf, he emptied his wallet.
So today I sit here thinking I would never give away all our money. Who would empty out their mutual funds, retirement plans, savings accounts and stocks? I wouldn’t, not in a million years. Where does this leave me?
When my husband and I were young starting out, we had very little. I knew in the back of my head we were “safe” from this parable lesson. The day I married my husband he was ABD without the dissertation started and had no income. He didn’t even have a car because he had to junk it on the way to the university one morning. Meanwhile, I was working at a local nonprofit. We had nothing but our love and my large inherited real estate debt.
I learned real estate, bought and sold property, then refinanced our current house seven years ago when the interest rates hit rock bottom. One day I told my husband we had earned what we had. He was quick to point out that it was all a gift from God. He was right.
The homeless man reminded me of my wealth.
All the gifts in our lives are precious. Sometimes I think I squander love and friendship much more than money. We can lose everything we love very quickly.
While adding up the terrible investment losses from last year, I thought about everything I could have done with the money to help others and fulfill our dreams. Now I’m reminded it’s never too late to start.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been hanging onto it after all.
Last week I wondered. Why do I care about the historic preservation of a building? Why do I care if the affordable housing community is built? Why do I care that there are homeless people living on our streets? None of these outcomes will change my life directly.
Most of the time, it’s not easy to care. When you really care, you take action. For these types of issues, you are often in the minority. Others may care but not enough to take action. If you act, you feel like the lone voice in the wilderness.
Even if you do find like-minded supporters for certain issues, it’s still not easy. If you stick your neck out, the repercussions from a loud and angry crowd of NIMBYs can be devastating. When they resort to personal attacks or try to discredit you, caring can be painful. People tell me you have to be thick-skinned.
Nothing new here to those with any experience with campaigns or NIMBYs. But when it happens to you, it feels like the first time. It is new. When taken on a personal level, aggressive emails and public complaints feel like you are being bullied. Standing up to a bully takes strength. People tend to shy away from confrontation so the bullies, and NIMBYs, win.
Last Sunday I visited a church. The minister preached about what Jesus could have done with his life. He could have continued to heal all day or preach nonstop, but his ultimate actions resulted in a movement, Christianity. She talked about how two thousand years later we have many people preaching to others, healing in hospitals, and working for nonprofit institutions.
I’d never thought about my nonprofit career as a fulfillment of Jesus’ mission. Throughout my teen years whenever I prayed in church for guidance in my life, the message was always so clear and loud. You must help other people. I could never escape it.
When I decided to “stay home with the kids”, I swore I would not go back to nonprofit work. I have.
Along the way I spent all my free time volunteering to make my little corner of the world better – the schools, the scouts, the church, and the community. I can’t help myself.
Last week, I reported on a meeting where one side of an issue presented their response to the other side. Unbeknownst to me, many didn’t want that information out in the community. The person who made the presentation said my writing was accurate, but his opponents are trying to discredit my integrity and ability. That’s tough to bear since it’s not been done in public, nor in a way I can respond.
So, the minister’s words were comforting to me.
Rest assured that this experience does not make me think that I’m on some type of Christian mission when I volunteer or work. I wouldn’t be so bold or ignorant. I acknowledge two sides to every issue and portray both evenly. My training as a Philosophy major forced me to accurately portray arguments then analyze their strengths. Sometimes this meant admitting that the argument against my belief was stronger.
A force … a strength … pushes me each day and keeps me going, even when it is not in my best self-interest. This much is sure. Where it comes from may not be certain.
Love and caring does extend beyond personal interests. Why do you care?
Yesterday my boys went to their first practice for the track team. My oldest ran up a steep hill three times with ease. The younger one kept smiling and running with enthusiasm. I was proud of their dedication.
At the end the coach called the team together. There must be more than 80 kids from 1st grade through middle school. He asked them to form a big circle and face in one direction. At first I didn’t notice my two boys in the middle with their backs to me. I was chatting and joking with a fellow parent. We both noticed them at the same time. As I don’t sugarcoat anything about my kids, I blurted out, “Oh my gosh, look at my kids!” We laughed. I tried to decide if I should go across the field and into the giant circle and make them stand like everyone else. They were listening to the coach. If I went out there, I would draw attention to them and create a scene.
How can you not notice when everyone else is doing something? As kids we’ve all stood in a circle for games. You feel the energy surrounding you. Everyone is looking at you. How could you possibly not notice?
When we came home I asked them about it. At first it was crowded so they stayed toward the front and everyone else must have moved. That was it.
Have you ever noticed other people oblivious to a situation?
I was tempted to give examples like someone eating while everyone else at the table waits to be served or someone talking on a cell phone in a quiet room, but this is not rudeness. It’s something else.
When my father was dying, the complications from his diabetes worsened over a couple of years. As I describe the situation, you know he is close to death. He was blind. His kidneys had failed and dialysis wasn’t working. Gigantic calcium deposits the size of baseballs were all over his body. He was missing parts of his fingers and toes to gangrene. Doctors came in to examine him because they had never seen someone so far along. Each of these conditions was a small battle. They developed over years and he survived each one. He would get through.
His sister is squeamish and came to the hospital. I changed his socks as a matter of course. She ran out of the room. Down at the end of the hall she cried and told me I had to know he was dying. I didn’t know, not really. There had been so many hospital visits and he was only 50 and I just kept taking care of him. It took someone to tell me directly before I saw it.
The bar moves slightly and you adjust. This continues to happen and you don’t realize how much things have changed. My boys made an adjustment to where they were standing and never realized the true situation. We all just keep plowing forward in life. It’s easy to say we should take stock of our situations and notice if things are different, but there’s no guarantee we will. That’s why we need other people to understand and help us join the circle.
Last year, my friend Christine gave me a book, Through the Eye of the Storm
by Cholene Espinoza. She buys them by the case and gives them away because all the proceeds go t
o building a community education center to serve the Katrina survivors in Mississippi. The book is written by a phenomenal pilot who witnessed the devastation from the hurricane and was moved to action to help rebuild a community. Along the way she makes many discoveries about herself. The faith and strength of this book continues with me each day. Quite frankly, I’m in awe of these women. Amidst the overwhelming feeling of despair we all feel about Katrina, they are making a difference in one community.
Last year at my Episcopal church, I was talking in my usual way. I found myself suggesting that it would be great to have a coffee house. We should fling wide the doors of our parish and invite the community to perform. We had never had a coffee house at the church nor had I ever organized one, but I love music and thought that everyone would have a good time.
Ideas flew around and we decided to collect donations for Richmond, South Africa, a community living in poverty. Three women from our parish who work in medical fields were going to travel to meet this community and hear their needs. All the better if my fun little coffee house can help someone. We wound up raising $1,800 and collecting a few hundred dollars worth of items that the women would take on the plane with them to make sure they were not stolen during delivery, which happens. The idea was to have a fund so that when they came back with a clear understanding of what they needed, we could help.
In life, I’m just the inspiration and the organizer. I do events in my sleep. I haven’t spoken to the women since they returned two weeks ago. Last week one gave me a small African instrument because of the coffee house, but that has been the extent of my contact.
Some of the items we collected were for a sewing business. We gave them supplies so that they could sew and sell. Many international programs have been established to help people move toward self sufficiency in developing nations.
At their presentation this week, I was listening to the stories about the people, the conditions, and the facilities. The sewing shop was not great and had substandard machines, but the women were dedicated and trying to earn a living. They need three sewing machines and a press. The women from my church told them to buy them.
They made this announcement in the middle of the presentation, amid pictures that showed smiling women displaying their work, a report that they don’t have a bathroom, and the fact that the shop is next to a very busy liqueur store.
They are going to use the money to buy sewing machines. I was overwhelmed to know that far away in the desert in South Africa women are going to be able to sew to earn a livelihood with machines bought with the money from my coffee house idea. It was a powerful moment. In a tiny, tiny way I understand how Cholene Espinoza feels reaching out to help. The world is filled with problems and it’s not much help, but we will make a difference to these women and their families.
What should they sew that will sell here in the United States? They make pillows and placemats. Someone suggested baby bibs. What ideas do you have?
If you had asked me last week if I could survive three additional boys living with us, I would have said no. I’m not that kind of person. Deep down in my heart, I know for sure I am not that kind of person. If I was, I would have had more kids!
I tried to say I couldn’t take care of these kids for five days/six nights. All my friends knew I didn’t have the strength. I said I couldn’t do it but the mom called in desperation with no other options. She has another dream of this next best position and the mandatory trip required to be successful. I felt like I had no option and agreed.
On Tuesday, the day of arrival, I finally went to a yoga class. My goal was inner strength to center me for this ordeal. What I truly forgot about was the physical pain a new class brings. I didn’t know the class would be an hour and a half. The owner is a friend and I always meant to help out her business by taking some classes. Yoga at home when I feel like it is more my style. I’m not a “joiner” when it comes to exercise because I hate to exercise.
By Wednesday I was popping pain killers all day but I had inner strength. As a matter of fact, I completely surprised myself with my positive attitude and ability to handle it all – different drop offs, a preschooler again, some crying, no backpacks, nonstop requests, no socks or underwear, no long sleeve shirts in winter, no phone calls – everything. I was on a dedicated high and could handle anything.
Last night my head was killing me. I never sleep but I slept for eight hours and was still drained this morning. Some one’s eye was just hurt playing and they are yelling. Only two more days to go, but it is the weekend and there is no school.
Someone commented that I must be really good friends with her. As friends go, I would say that I am not. I just feel that if life had dealt me her hand, I would want someone to be there for me. I always admire how she never gives up. I’ve always been sure I could not be a single mom but really you need to take it one day at a time and hope for the best.