It's a feature of my melancholic temperament that I tend to over-analyze things and get angsty about the big-picture moral ideals of my life. Offering service to others is no exception. The magnitude of human suffering leaves me feeling completely helpless. It's like I am standing with Mary, watching the people I love get nailed to a cross and knowing there is nothing I can really do to stop it.
I left home knowing that no matter how many dishes I washed or grocery runs I made or walls I painted, I could never solve my mom's medical problems or bring an end to our endless renovation/mold remediation. Then I came to STL and was confronted by a whole new host of problems. Sure, I can help raise money to fund our nurse home visits, but that is just a tiny drop in the ocean of urban poverty. We can teach women how to mix formula and prevent SIDS death, but we can't eliminate every unfair landlord, absentee father, sexual predator, or lazy mother with a sense of entitlement. So many of our clients' children are the result of a culture where promiscuity from a young age is the rule and marriage is not the norm. There are hundreds of non-profits in the city, but for every person we help there are several more we don't have the funds to reach.
Then I read a biography of Mother Teresa, and was amazed at her approach to the squalor of India. Sure, "Do small things with great love," is a Catholic cliche by now, not unlike that gosh danged "Be the Change" Ghandi quote. (I swear, if I see one more tshirt or fundraiser bearing that slogan...) The sentence doesn't really do the concept justice, though. Mother Teresa' letters radiate her love for Jesus and "love for souls." Through intense prayer and communion with the source of all love, she found the courage to share that love by whatever means needed.
The people at NFNF have also shown me what that concept means. Our nurses and staff do the best they can about the matter at hand, and don't worry about what will happen 5 or 10 years from now. If we can ensure that one baby has a safe place to sleep or secure a relationship with one more donor, that's something. Our founder, Sharon, started small and God blessed her work. Here's what I wrote for her retirement party.
Sharon has impressed me from the minute I walked in the office door, if nothing else for the fact that she has been on Oprah! Seriously, though, her dedication, great love, deep faith were apparent right away. When she told me that she and the staff pray over every grant they send out, I knew I had picked the right place for my volunteer year.
Before I started at NFNF, I was rather intimidated by the idea of making a difference. When you graduate from college, everyone tells you to go out and change the world. That’s a little ridiculous – have they seen all the problems in the world? Since then, in just one month at NFNF, I’ve already learned that even a tiny offer of help isn’t worthless. Sharon and her foundation have shown me how one little idea can grow over time into something truly amazing.
I’m going to end with one kind-of funny story that illustrates what I mean. During my first week at NFNF I walked around on eggshells, making sure I was extra polite to everyone. One day at lunchtime everyone was gathered in the kitchen, cooing over Laurie’s baby granddaughter. I needed to get my lunch out of the fridge, but Sharon stood in my way holding the baby. I thought “Oh no, the CEO is standing there, I better not get in her way. I’ll go around the hallway to the other side.” When somebody asked “Hey, did you need something?” I meekly muttered about my lunch and how I didn’t want to get in the way. Sharon responded “Oh please, we’re all like family here. Just tell me ‘Hey! Get out of my way!’” And she did.
That little episode helped me loosen up a little, and gave me a some insight into what makes Sharon such an amazing person. Because she is so down to earth and friendly, she can meet people where they are and give them the respect and care they deserve. Thank you Sharon, for being so awesome, and for following God’s call to help his children.
Like Queen and David Bowie once sang:
Can't we give ourselves one more chance
Why can't we give love that one more chance
Why can't we give love