Tag Archives: service

To Serve Man

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.


The Servant’s Heart

I’m not quite ready to share my comments from Daddy’s memorial service. Mom asked me to write the obituary for the paper and I did. It’s somewhere in my house, tucked inside a Bible, and I can’t remember exactly what I wrote. But whatever it was, it caught the attention of someone on the staff of the regional newspaper. About 2 days after the memorial service, we received a phone call from the paper asking our permission to publish an article about Daddy. We agreed, several people were interviewed, and here’s what the paper published (with most names changed.)

GE Hughes – “Eddie” to anyone who knew him – was known for his handiness with stained glass and with just about everything else.
One of the very last stained-glass works he made before his death was a gift for his cardiologist: a heart, broken into pieces and put together again with an inscription reading, “To the Heart Mender.”

According to his friends and family, that was just the kind of man Hughes was. Despite his heart condition, which progressed to the heart failure that ended his life, Hughes kept busy doing things for others.

“He really was a great guy,” said John , a friend who met Hughes in church 10 years ago.

“He was my go-to guy,” adding that Hughes could fix anything from “heavy machinery to stained glass.”

Hughes was a tool and hardware supplier, he said.

“He was always scrounging and fixing things up. … He knew everyone from what we would call far Southwest – Carroll County and Lee County – to Lynchburg and Appomattox.”

When Hughes retired, he put his talents to work overtime for his community at MS Baptist Church in Christiansburg.

“He really had a servant’s heart,” John said – a sentiment echoed by Hughes’ daughter, Cielo, who described her father as having a “humility of spirit” and a “servant gift.”

That humility was recognized by those who knew Hughes. His family and friends speak of the quiet manner with which he helped others, and they say his quietly conducted service was an extension of his faith.

“He probably knew more about the Bible than he would let on,” said J.C., a long-time friend who said that Hughes wasn’t the type to “beat people over the head with the Bible.”

He didn’t need to, said J.C. “His actions spoke volumes about who he was and what his faith was all about.”

Evidence of Hughes’ service abounds in his church, where, according to his friends and family, it is impossible to look around without seeing something that Hughes built or repaired. According to his wife, D., near the end of his life Hughes told her, “I’ve left traces of myself all through this church.”

“And the truth,” she added, “is that he left traces of himself in the hearts of these people.”

Hughes was also a greeter at the church, and because of that, he was often the first person a new church member was likely to meet. “He made them feel so welcome and at home.”

Hughes was born in Richmond in 1937 and eventually moved with his family to Skipwith to a small house in a little railroad town in tobacco country no bigger than, as his wife put it, “twelve houses and a post office.” He graduated from high school and became an electrician’s apprentice. When in the late 1950s his company offered him a job to build a hospital in Mount Airy, N.C., he took the opportunity.

It turned out to be one of the most important decisions he would ever make because it was there, at a party a co-worker was having, where Hughes met his wife.

“I really can still remember the very first time I saw him,” she said joyfully. She was only 14 at the time, and he was 18. Eventually they were married – a union that lasted 45 years. They had a daughter, Cielo, and two grandchildren, Clayton, 14, and Katherine, 10.

Hughes’ personality and his faith continued to shine even at his memorial service, due to several of his requests. According to his wife, he had asked the pastors to conduct the service as a celebration. In that spirit, Hughes asked the pastors to wear bright-colored ties. (Cielo adds: There were many ties for them to choose from, all Daddy’s, and the directions were specific: they had to wear one of Daddy’s ties, not one of their own.)

“He loved life. He was always a joy,” his wife said. “I found a jewel.”