Many years ago, I was chatting with a coworker about art. During the conversation he said, “I think only two things really matter in life: Creative endeavor and Service to Others.” I don’t recall his exact words, but this is close. I remember thinking back then, I am totally in agreement about creativity, but not so certain about service to others. I thought it was good and all, but to make that my focus? I wasn’t sure. Well, that was then. Today I find that service to my community is exciting and rewarding. I think the reason has something to do with getting my mind off myself. As for creativity? What could be more creative than finding new ways to serve my community? It gives me opportunities to learn, to meet new people and to stretch myself! And getting me out of the house is no small part of the benefit. Today it gives me a thrill to be able to take on a new project and to follow through.
I am big on community these days. This is not only because I like people, but because there are real benefits for me. I get to meet new folks and learn new skills. I broaden my social horizon and find out more about my community.
It occurs to me lately that we all suffer from a distortion of reality due to scale. We usually interact with a limited number of people, over the course of a week or a month. Unless we make an effort to expand, this human quantity can remain the same for years! When that happens, we can make unwarranted assumptions about our community. We may think we know our neighbors when we really do not. Perhaps this is one way prejudice arises – from ignorance.
I don’t want my world to shrink, but to expand, especially now that I am older and retired. Meeting new people is exciting! Community service is one way to accomplish this.
I remember a novelist once writing, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something new.”
It’s been years since read that story by T.H. White about King Arthur and his mentor Merlin, but I am taking up that challenge now. I find that every new experience and endeavor enlivens my mind and will. Here in Virginia, we are finally approaching spring after a cold, wet winter. There is more light and an occasional day in the 70s, even close to 80. The wild things are responding. I especially notice the birds. I love to hear them in the morning, and I’ve determined to learn their calls. This requires focus and discipline, skills I need to practice.
A couple of weeks after my friend Steve died, I went to lunch with a friend from church whose gentle conversation helped me a lot. Afterward, I remember sitting in the parking lot for a few minutes watching the birds flit thru the trees in front of my car. I was still numb with grief, but the natural activity before me drew me out of it for a minute. I began to wonder if bird watching would be a good diversion for me.
Weeks later I followed through on this idea. My daughter-in-law was the one who suggested I get a bird feeder, so I did. The resulting activity in my backyard precipitated new conversations and picture sharing with Paul and Kari. This was very rewarding for me, since they live 3,000 miles away in Oregon, and every conversation is a gift. There have also been conversations with neighbors and friends who have bird feeders. Sometimes they help me identify the birds and their calls. It is a delightful adventure, all because I was willing to learn something new.
You could start a new project. I have a new project on the home front, now that I’ve decided to move. My house maintenance schedule has become compressed. There are all kinds of decisions to be made and contractors to deal with, alongside the daily routine. Believe it or not, this is a helpful distraction from grief, now that the most recent loss event is a year behind me. I feel more balanced and competent, even peaceful. The way I think God wants us to be.