If I die today, what impact have I made on the world? Have I made a contribution to humanity that will continue long after I am gone? Some may think this is morbid thought but I find that it helps to center and focus me in the right direction. Perhaps, this way of thinking is based on a goal that I set for myself during early childhood.
Growing up, for a variety of reasons, I did not have the latest and greatest toys or the nicest clothes. I did not have role models who demonstrated meaningful, loving relationships nor did they explain things to me that ensured I would grow up to be
better than the previous generation. As a child, I grew up always looking around me, trying to find the person who seemed to be the smartest, the nicest, the happiest, the best dressed, etc. The list could go on and on but, my point is this, it was up to me to find the good and to try and emulate it. It was up to me to find people who seemed to be heading down the right path and become like them. This is advice that I have offered to other many times in my life. “Surround yourself with people who are doing better than you and this will encourage you to do better. Surround yourself with people who are just like you and you will struggle to move because you have no motivation to do so.”
Throughout the years, I always knew that I needed to do better but I have never had a concrete plan to follow. Periodically, I would reach a point where I began to feel it was time to make a change. Each time, I would get a better job, even if it only paid 25¢ more or, at some point, I realized that I must return to school for additional education. As far as family, there was never anyone pushing me to do anything, no one cared or knew how to convey they cared. I pushed myself because I knew where I was, was not good enough. At each crossroad, I never stopped saying to myself that someday, I would give back. In 2007, I did just that.
With the completion of a degree, I contemplated quitting my job and volunteering. I danced around with the decision for quite some time and as with previous times, I felt that I did not have enough money, I was not quite ready to quit. Then, a co-worker, was fine one day and the next, he was diagnosed with brain tumor. Yes, just like that, his life changed in an instant. I did not know his wife but I quickly volunteered to help in any way that I could; meaning grocery shopping, laundry, etc. The day after she received my message, she called and said, I can use your help. The interesting part is that I knew she was not talking about laundry or grocery shopping. She was requesting my help to take care of him. So, with every fear that one can have, I showed up at her home the next day.
At this time, the tumor was not as large as it was going to get and he could sit in a chair and watch TV. I made his meals and sat with him while she worked. Some days, I would arrive at their home after working all night and sometimes, I left their home and went to work a night shift. In the end, it did not matter because I knew how much she needed the help. She had called a complete stranger for help and there was no way that I was going to back out. Several weeks to a month later, she came home and said that the doctor would be reviewing the most recent set of brain scans the next day. By this point, her husband, my co-worker, was confined to the bed and he had lost the ability to sit up.
The next day, when she returned from the appointment, I was rushing to get to work for another midnight shift. I quickly explained that dinner was on the stove, said I would see her tomorrow, and headed out the door. I stopped in my tracks when she whispered, “You do not need to come back tomorrow”. I turned around and she had tears in her eyes and she quietly said, the doctor has given him seven days to live.
The expected hugging and crying occurred but what was not expected is that within a moment of her telling me the news, another co-worker showed up to mow the grass. As he approached the door, she asked me to give him the news. I froze inside. How could I, the person who never even wanted to take care of a sick person, deliver the news that a co-worker had been given seven days to live? Well, because my life has taught me very well how to cry on the inside and fake it on the outside, I went the door and did what had to be done. Once the co-worker left, I went down the hall to say goodbye to the co-worker with the brain tumor.
I should say a few things about this person. He was a 6+ foot, 200+ pound, bald (by choice and chemo), Harley riding, bandana wearing biker dude. Every year, he and his wife took the motorcycles out West to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He was definitely a “good old boy”. Me? We can just say that I am the opposite. He and I were friendly at the plant and he was always nice to me but there was nothing that, under different circumstances, either would have called a friendship.
Despite our vast differences, I headed down the hall to say goodbye. When I sat on the bed, all I could do, to hide the tears, was lean over and kiss him on the forehead. When I did, he gave a soft moan, mmmmm was the sound. I sat up and asked, “Did you like that?” With the little energy that he had, he raised the forehead where his brows had once been. Without thought, I said, I promise you that I am going to kiss you everyday.” He smiled. Four days later, I received the call that he had passed away. I never missed a day of kissing his forehead and holding his hand.
After he passed away, I constantly heard the words, “Carolyn, you know what you have to do.” Not a day passed that I did not hear it. I knew it was time. Within 6 months, I quit my job and began to volunteer with Americorps/Habitat for Humanity. Not one single time did I long for money and NEVER in the 9 years since I quit that job have I regretted my decision to give back to those who are less fortunate than I.
To give back to those who come from a similar background but did not have the inner drive or motivation to do better. To give back to those who look around and no matter how much they try, they never see a person who looks like them who is doing good things or living a “better life”.
If you ask some, “Who are the role models for black children”, the first names that come up are Oprah, Shaq, and other celebrities. These people are not real! This is a list of untouchables. What are the circumstances that will bring the average child who lives in poverty in contact with Oprah? That is not real life. I want to bring real life to these children.
Real life is smiling at the child in the grocery store or holding their hand as their mother tries to balance all of her groceries. How about, just speaking to them in a nice way when I see them in certain places. Of course, I become the “black lady who talks white (another post for another time) but that child will always remember me, the same way I remembered the people who treated me nicely and made me want to give back. One of these children will strive to do better because they want to be like me and that is what I hope for.
I hope that my actions, reactions, and interactions lead to a few people doing better than they would have had they never crossed my path. I do not need to commit my life to them, I do not need to know their names or tell them my name. I do not need to know where they live or why mommy does not have enough money to pay the bill. I only need a moment. A lot can be accomplished in a moment.
The community and environments in which I was raised, seem so distant to me now. Sometimes, even scary. No matter, my desire to give back is still strong.I do not go out and lecture people on how they should live life. I simply try to live a life that demonstrates a better way and I have always prayed that someone will notice and use me as a model to do better. In the last few years, I have been fortunate to not only say thanks to a few people who demonstrated a “better way” for me without even realizing what they were doing but I have been rendered speechless to have a few people tell me that through my efforts, they have been able to find a “better way”.
If I die tomorrow, I believe that I have left a lasting impact on the world through my interactions with the younger generations. I believe that I have made a significant contribution to humanity by using every day to take what I have learned, my drive, my motivation, and my spirit and pay it forward but, I am not done. I can never be done. Being done means that there is no child wanting for love, guidance, kindness, encouragement, or a tender touch.