In the States, it’s not only the public ceremony for the presidential inauguration, but it’s also a national holiday, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’– Dr. King
I had been reading a list of quotes attributed to him — all the familiar ones that still give me goosebumps. Most of them contain soaring rhetoric about big and abstract qualities — courage, honor, justice — and he speaks about them as eloquently as a modern-day Plato.
But the above quote about service to others jumped out at me. It’s the antithesis of merely thinking about the big questions. It’s taking them down from their lofty perches and putting them into practice.
I’ve heard it said that there are two different kinds of people in the world — Thinkers and Doers — but I think voluntarism marries the two in a way that no other action does. Sure, there’s the “doing” part — the actual volunteering — but there’s also the recognition of need, a higher call. It’s the understanding that through the selfless act of helping others, the abstract notions of love and compassion manifest themselves in concrete and meaningful ways.
Not so coincidentally, there’s a lot of emphasis on service over this three-day holiday weekend. Saturday was a National Day of Service, and today there’s another call to serve as well. There are about a million different ways to make a difference — even on a cold day in January, even if your family is trying to dodge the worst of the flu.
Here are five quiet actions that can make someone else’s life better:
1. Make something. Knit, crochet, or quilt blankets or toys for children in need. Project Linus is just one of many charities that seeks handmade donations to help kids get through a difficult time.
2. Mail something. Send Girl Scout cookies (or letters or care packages) to the servicemen and women overseas.
3. Feed someone. Sign your family up to make ready-to-eat meals for those in other countries (I posted about our family’s experience last summer here) or organize a food drive in your neighborhood to donate to your local food pantry. (Ask them — they all need food and supplies).
4. Upcycle something. See what amazing programs your local recycling branch offers. For example, our recycling organization collects all the broken bits of old crayons from kids, sorts them by color, and melts them down to make “super crayons” (extra large crayons that are easier for younger children and kids with physical disabilities to use). And that’s just one of the programs they have.
5. Donate something. Clean out the kids’ closets and donate extra toys, clothes and shoes. It’s worth a quick call to your local Goodwill or other charity to see if they accept clean worn-out clothing — yes, even ancient clean underwear and holey socks — to be transformed into industrial rags. I cannot stress enough that clean is the operative word for clothing donations — no matter what they are or what shape they’re in.
“What are you doing for others?” Does this question whisper to you too?