A different kind of eyes

“Today, kids, I want you to find one way to be of help to someone else.”

My older brother and I were buckled up in the backseat of our family’s new Dodge Aries K station wagon: light blue with a wood stripe. (OK, who am I kidding? We were sitting unbuckled in the ‘way-back’.) He was in third grade, I was in first grade, and it was the last year we would spend in Henderson, Nevada. My dad’s retirement from the United States Air Force would soon be a reality and we would move to the east coast to be nearer to both sets of grandparents. But for today, we were in our Sunday clothes, on our way to the new church our parents had helped build with other volunteers and church members. As we rode through the flat and sand-colored landscapes, my parents asked us to go into church differently than usual – to be on the lookout for people who might need help, to do something for someone else.

Now that I have two children of my own, I understand and appreciate why they did this. I think all of us – no matter our age, are more practiced at going through our days thinking about our own needs. Let me speak for myself: I walk into restaurants thinking about what I will order and what I am hungry for or how I’ve exercised today so I can afford a little dessert. I walk into my job thinking about what I will accomplish and how I can be or at least appear competent. And even when I walk into church – the place designed to take my eyes off of myself and onto my higher power, my bigger calling – I admit I am often occupied with where I will sit, whether I will know and like the songs, and what groceries I need to remember to pick up when I leave.

Back to 1987: We entered the sanctuary with all the others coming in to worship in the new space they had built together. My brother did his helpful deed right away: he held the door for a couple walking in. Mom went to sing in the choir and my dad, brother and I took our seats in the new pews. To my right was an elderly woman sitting alone. We sat through the praying and the anthems and the sermon and the offering. It came time to sing a hymn as the service was wrapping up. The woman next to me seemed to be fumbling with the pages and having a hard time. This was it! This was my moment! I couldn’t leave this service without helping. I took her hymnal from her, turned to the correct song and handed it back with a smile. She smiled back at me and we all stood to sing together. I looked at my dad like did you catch that? I HELPED!

Thinking back, I do not know if I helped her or if I startled her. And, while my motivation on some level was to check that box – to do the thing I had been asked to do – I also remember the way it felt to make someone else’s day a little better, to cause a smile on another person’s face. It felt warm and sweet.

This morning I saw a clip of a good news story about an 11-year-old girl named Ruby who goes with her mom, Amanda, to her work in nursing homes. She started asking the residents their 3 biggest wishes and she was surprised by their responses. None of their lists included fancy cars, houses or money. They wanted fresh fruit, hygiene products, and the little cans of vienna sausages. This young lady – the same age as my oldest son – started a charity, raised money online, and bought all the items the residents had wished for. She returned to the nursing home to deliver the goods – stacked in boxes on a wheelchair which she used as her cart. The residents were overwhelmed with gratitude as Ruby had met some of their most basic human needs: the need to be remembered, to be cherished. And my guess is that Ruby learned the same thing I learned in that new church building 32 years ago: that we are already equipped to meet the needs that others around us are brave enough to make known. Being a helper is not only for grown-ups or for the richest or for the strongest among us. It is for all of us. Right now.

In the midst of my eyes welling up over Ruby’s work, my mind went straight back to my parents’ words to me: Find a way to help. Use your eyes to see more than just what this world has for you. Use your eyes to see someone else.

I believe that when we are gone from this realm, the work we did with love and for love will remain while all else fades quickly away.  So in honor of my parents on this Palm Sunday (while we were actually skipping church), I gave my kids the same encouragement while they were buckled in the backseat of my car: Use your eyes to see others. Look for ways to help. {AND PLEASE GOD WHEN MY KIDS LOOK BACK AT OLD PHOTOS DON’T LET MY ACURA BE AS UNCOOL AS MY PARENTS’ DODGE, AMEN}.

Thanks, mom and dad, for building so many things that have lasted. Thanks for teaching me to see with a different kind of eyes, to use my hands to do work that will last. May I be ever in-tune to that bigger story, and ever-grateful that I get to be a part of it.