POSTS BY CATEGORY
// GLOBAL ISSUES //
// INTERVIEWS //
Years ago, I spent the summer working at a camp for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. This was the hardest and most beautiful summer of my life. As dawn broke in the mountains surrounding the camp, a chaotic joy overtook the grounds, the sort of place where patience is not just a virtue but an absolute necessity. You cannot rush someone through putting every ounce of their strength and determination into walking across the room or learning to hold a paintbrush for the very first time, at the age of 60. And so we hovered nearby as campers stumbled across hiking trails, safety nets always ready, but never thrown out until the very last minute.
Amid the rush of busy children and racing wheelchairs, there lie an abundance of true beauty in the quiet places. Molly* was in her mid-30’s, immobilized by severe cerebral palsy, and had endured a lifetime of dependence on others. I say endured, but the truth is that she accepted thankfully every bath, every changing, and every underwhelming cafeteria meal. One day at lunch, I helped her frazzled counselor by spooning mashed carrots into Molly’s mouth. My hands are always shaky, and on one occasion I dropped an enormous blob of orange stuff onto the poor woman’s face. As I apologized profusely, frantically sorting through the contents of her bag to find a napkin, Molly looked me in the eyes and whispered, “I love you.”
Serving others isn’t always about what you can do for them, but in how you accept their efforts to do things for you. In one simple gesture of grace, Molly gave more to me than I could offer her in a lifetime of “doing.” And though she had no choice but to accept help, the attitude with which she received it imprints the beauty of her kindness on my mind across the space of a decade. I will likely remember it for the rest of my life.
I almost missed this moment entirely, because I was scared to accept the position working at camp in the first place. In those first weeks, particularly assisting with personal care tasks, I felt very incompetent, overwhelmed, and out of place; and often thought of quitting. I’ve found, though, that the best and truest parts of life usually happen when we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. When we listen to the stories of those who are most different than us, whose lives don’t make sense to us, and even those who we can’t possibly imagine finding common ground with. But this is difficult. I’ve noticed a tendency, both in myself and in others, to divide the world into “us” and “them.” “We” and “they.” There’s a safety in that.
“Them” is somebody we don’t have to think much about.
“They” is distance.
“We” is scary. “We” calls us to action in uncomfortable places, asks us to keep less for ourselves, and asks us to care about difficult and incomprehensible things. If allowed, “we” can permeate the smallest corners of our lives and make once mindless actions into complex choices about the greater good.
In my life, I want to aim for “we.”
At the end of the day, the world is full of people. People who are remarkable for the goodness of their contributions, people who see the world in a radically different ways than I do, people who overcome crushing obstacles, people who create, and people who destroy. There are also people like Molly, living quiet, humble lives with extraordinary grace.