Remember that old episode of The Twilight Zone called “To Serve Man”? This alien race comes to planet Earth with a book. The scientists manage to translate the title, “To Serve Man”, assume that the aliens are here to help advance mankind. The aliens are looking for volunteers to go with them back to their planet. The volunteers assume they will become privy to wonderful new technologies they will bring back to Earth. People are lining up in droves to go with the aliens.
Then the scientists finish translating the rest of the book and (insert punchline here): It’s a COOKBOOK.
So what? Well, it was a funny episode, it highlighted how we assume things when we don’t have all the facts, and it had the word ‘serve’ in it.
I listened to both presidential candidates Thursday night as they discussed service at Columbia University. One thing the moderators implied that really bugged me was that only wealthy people could afford to volunteer their time in public service. I realize that, in global standards, I am wealthy. But I am not wealthy in the way the moderators were implying. I’m pretty much average, except for the fibromyalgia disability. So, what can an average person with fibro do in public service, in addition to raising a family?
My house is a safe place for neighborhood teenagers to come and hang out. Urban areas riddled with violence and poverty are not the only places in our country where kids are in trouble.
My husband and I chaperone youth outings, to concerts, overnight ski trips, summer camp, whatever. We shuttle kids to, dare I say it, church. Kids that want to go to church, whose parents either can’t or won’t take them. Last Saturday night was typical here. We had our son home from college, our daughter, her girlfriend who’s here every Saturday, for church, and a young man from the neighborhood sacked out on the couch. This kid will have to transfer to another school 30 miles away after this semester, if his mother doesn’t break up with her current boyfriend. My kids want us to let him live here.
Our son drives over from college on Wednesdays to teach art to middle and high school kids.
I’ve been to Slidell, Louisiana, two months after Katrina. Unless you were there to actually see it, smell it, touch, taste it, you can’t begin to really understand it. I thought I did, because I’d seen all the media coverage. I didn’t. I went to chaperone high school kids who gave up their fall break to go and work. I can tell amazing stories about what I learned from the people in Slidell, and from the teenagers I was supposed to be leading. Their wisdom was humbling.
I went back the following June, to Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi. Again, to chaperone teens. I thought, it’s been almost a year, the difference must be remarkable. What was remarkable was the overwhelming devastation remaining, everywhere. And we weren’t in New Orleans.
Everyone in our family, except our daughter, has been to the Dominican Republic. We haven’t seen the beach, or been to an all-inclusive resort, or a casino. We’ve built houses, played with children, worked medical and dental clinics, met with some of the poorest people in Santo Domingo, in their homes. I think I’ve been there ten times now, and am planning to go back in January. I’ll be there for my birthday, and I can’t imagine a better present. Daughter will be going next summer.
In October we plan to spend a weekend in eastern North Carolina, working construction in some areas that are still trying to recover from storm damage that occurred several years ago. Our church will be hosting an overflow homeless shelter this winter, for the second year. The government red tape we had to cut through to get that to happen was nasty.
Recently I’ve become intrigued by the Street School movement. There are 40 street schools across the country based on the Denver model, including one about five miles from my house. I know several people who are already involved, and I want to be one of them.
What can one person do? Lots.
Oh, and if everyone could stop shouting at each other and start listening and thinking for just a moment, perhaps we would realize that one of many definitions of “community organizer” could be “mayor”.
Think about it.