Monday, January 19, 2009

National Service Day

I have a friend, Nancy, who found an ugly, empty stretch of dirt in back of the train station down the street from her home. This is the entrance to our town from the north and was rather bleek. She wasn't happy because she wanted people coming into our town from Chicago to know just what a beautiful place we live in. Nancy committed herself to a long term service project. She would make those few feet into something pleasing to look at. Each year she purchases plants, and lovingly works the soil, digs the holes and buries the roots. When she's done, she waters each and every plant. During the spring and summer months, she returns to the plot and weeds. During those hot summer months in the Chicagoland area, when the summer rains dries up and we are looking more and more to our garden hoses to keep our lawns and gardens green and vibrant, Nancy totes water in the trunk of her car to the train station so she can water her 'babies.'
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It seems like such a little act. I mean who cares about a tiny plot of ground and whether someone planted it or not? Well apparently her neighbors do. Last year Nancy's husband took ill and she sprained a knee. She had neither the time nor the ability to shop for the plants and then plant and tend to them. Her neighbors, knowing of her situation, took over for her. One neighbor bought, one planted, and one neighbor left behind gallon jugs of water for anyone who passed could sprinkle water on a dry day. Last year that little garden sprouted with big, beautiful flowers. I think more so because of the love that began with Nancy and was passed onto her neighbors.
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My neighbor, Carl, comes from a large family. I don't know how many siblings there are, only that each and every brother and a few of the sisters are involved in every level of Boy Scouts. This is unusual because Carl has daughters, and his sister, Teresa, doesn't have any children at all. Teresa and Carl work together to plan activities that involve all neighborhood troops and packs. That means hundreds of children and a large number of adults as well.
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I have another friend who runs a newspaper. My paper, actually. We report the meetings in this town as accurately and as unbiased as possible. We don't miss a thing, whether it is City Council, Park Board or school board meetings. It is our duty to provide our readers with enough information so that they can make good, well informed decisions about their City.
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My friend, my boss, is hard working, driven, and under paid. She is involved in all corners of the community. Each summer my paper sponsors two events that everyone looks forward to. First is a garden walk where some of the most beautiful, large gardens can be seen. The second is a competition. Residents nominate their neighbors when they think that those people take the time to plant and paint and create living conditions that make each block look better than ever before. There are places in my town where the neighbors compete against each other for the honor. Once indivisual homes are chosen, three in each ward, then one block from the City at large is chosen as best block. And each year there is one home awarded as the most improved.
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Before she became involved, our community seemed happy, and complacent. It seemed that all manner of dirty tricks took place and that politics was a matter of who could line their pockets with what. Today our residents are active in civic matters and that all levels of government now tiptoe softly. We are no longer complacent.
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There is a Habitat for Humanities group in the town next to us. We all know what they do. They build homes for deserving people who are willing to work for those homes.
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Today, of course, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. King was a great man with a great idea, one that looks to have finally produced fruit from the seeds he planted 40 years ago. Tomorrow an African American will be sworn in as President.
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Frankly I'm tired of hearing about it. What King did was incredible. He knowingly put his life on the line and lost it for what he believed in. That took more courage than most of us will ever know. He did the right thing. What I'm tired of, and what I'd like to see, is that we Americans take the next step. Tomorrow we are not just inaugerating an African American into the highest office in the land, we are inaugerating an American. I want to leave it as that.
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Now as for my preamble, I wrote this because today was also a National Service Day. In honor of MLK, each citizen was suppose to commit to community service. My only comment is that this is not enough. Community service should never be one day a year or one season a year. If one lady can plant a garden and one man run a Boy Scout troop, then our community is much better off because of it. Add to that the coaches and umpires in children's sports, those who donate their time to build a home or shovel a walk for their neighbor. Think about the people who run shelters or food pantries. Or those who read to children at the libraries, teach Sunday school, or even those who play their music for others to hear. So little can mean so much. Sometimes these little contributions are enough to change lives for the better.
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It's not even just the community who is affected. I've bragged about my little part in helping out, basically because I'm proud of what I do. I started first, because when I was helped I was too ashamed to admit I needed that help. I figured if I donate my time I could show all those who helped me that I didn't need their help. What came out of my participation is not what I expected. I learned instead that I am strong, I am wise, and I am capable of much more than I ever imagined. I turned my self loathing into self respect. That amazed the hell out of me. I hope by involving my children they learned the same lesson. I have more respect for them as individuals than I ever imagined I would when I first had children.
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I think that if everyone contributed just a little, we could change the world for the better.

2 comments:

Jimmy's Journal said...

It's people like Nancy that puts my faith back into humanity. It's also nice for a journalist to mention her unsung deeds. Congratulations to you both.

With all the chest thumping by the new administration and the addicted media cashing in on it, it's nice to see a touching story about locals who do not need the spotlight and accolades to do their civic duties.

Jimmy

~ Lor said...

Hey Jude - there you are! I was wondering whether you'd made the treck over here from aol. Glad to have found you. ~ Lori