The Will to Serve

She Made a Difference

I had high expectations, a new grade level, a new reading program, a summer of preparation behind me, and thirty-three, high-spirited fourth-grade students in a room built for twenty-five.

We worked hard and made progress, but each night I carried increasing weariness and stacks of papers home with me.

Then one day after school, a student’s grandmother entered my classroom, waving the letter I’d sent home in hopes of finding volunteers willing to help us.

Wearing a flowered house dress on a stout body and tilting forward from the waist on her orthopedic shoes, she sailed into my classroom like a handsome profile on the prow of a ship: all business and on the move.

clip-art-freeEighty-years old with shining eyes above a prominent nose, she briskly shook my hand and assured me she’d be in my room every day for any two hours I wanted, on time and ready to work. She’d raised too many kids to be scared of them. She could be of use; she was ready to start, and “Y’all can call me Miz Esther.”

Oh, how we loved her.

I watched and listened the first day as she completed the tasks I had described: She began by circulating among the children as they worked, applauding and helping; she then listened to individuals read: laughing and chatting with them about the story, ignoring slowness, hesitancy, and minor errors, while praising victories. Next, she checked and approved assignments students brought to her or sent them to their seats with suggestions on how to improve: always with a smile, sometimes, when needed, with a hug.

I relaxed, worked with small groups or individuals with complete concentration, and knew we had a treasure.

All year my students circled in her sunshine. We relied on her, and she met all challenges, even playing the bit part of a grumpy baker in a play we produced, shaking a rolling-pin and grumbling with conviction.

For two years, she graced my classroom with her presence, her only pay being smiles, notes, hugs, and small gifts from appreciative children.

Then the August day came when I learned from her daughter that her mom wouldn’t be returning to school that fall. As the children she had worked with shopped for back-to-school clothes, she died, surrounded by her large, loving family.

I attended her crowded funeral and reflected on her patience, her generosity, and her will to serve: to help others, to make my classroom a place of increased learning opportunities; to be of use.

The students and parents sprinkled among the mourners proved the worth of those efforts. Their young faces looking unusually  solemn, the children she had hugged and helped, said good-bye to Miz Esther.

Have a volunteer experience to share?
Please leave a response below.

Summary of Comments on “Building My Brain with Books”
How happy I am to know that my blog friends feel as passionately about reading as I do, have shared many of the same experiences, and treasure several of the same books. Their comments are too detailed and interesting to do justice to in a summary. Please give yourself a treat and return to the post to read what Lori, Jeannie, Becca, Audrey, and Mercy had to say.


Do Some Good: An Uneven Journey

The notion that we should help those in need didn’t come to me easily; though my mother tried.

“Janet, you know Mr. Gull is in the hospital and Mrs. Gull has three young children, right? Can you think of any way you could help her?”

“I don’t know; maybe send a get well card?”

“Or maybe call and offer to babysit free of charge while she visits her husband? Maybe you should go call her. Now. It would be a big help to her and a kind thing to do.”

Closing The Witch of Blackbird Pond and donning my martyr mask, I slouched toward the phone.

On my own after college, I slid into total self-interest. Busy establishing myself in a career and new marriage, I thought I had no helping hands to lend; so I donated canned goods to food drives, gave at the office, purchased whatever children were selling, and felt virtuous.

Several years after my first marriage ended, I married a man who made community involvement a way of life and was surprised that I didn’t. Because Joel worked longer hours than I and still found time to volunteer, my “I’m too busy” argument sound silly.

dental careI heard about a non-profit organization that provided dental care to children based on their parents’ ability to pay. As a teacher, I’d known children who had difficulty learning because their teeth hurt, so I joined the board of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and was soon able to speak intelligently about operatories, fluoride treatments, and the cost of x-ray machines.

Best of all, I liked knowing that after a visit to the clinic, children in the town I call home fell asleep without toothaches.

I discovered that serving others in any capacity — volunteer coach, hospital pink lady, reading buddy — widens your social circles, enriches your life, strengthens your community…and makes you feel good.

Have some thoughts
about serving others?
I’d be interested.

Recap of Comments on Aunt Beulah’s Recommendations

Dawna said Aunt Beulah’s recommendations hit home with her because she has had similar thoughts. She also felt Aunt Beulah’s ideas will help her stay focused on aging well. This response tells me that Dawna is way ahead of where I was at her age. I’ve no doubt she will age gracefully.

Mary offered the following thought about developing your talents and skills without worrying about how others may judge your efforts: “Thank you for reminding me to just take joy in the project and let the future take care of itself.” What a wonderful thought; one I agree with, but sometimes struggle to maintain.