The Need to Do SOMETHING

So, I sent this to be printed in our weekly school newsletter:

Dear [Elementary School] Community,

Every family has one person who is the "go-to" person in a crisis. This person could be counted on to mobilize the forces, break the bad news, organize the recovery and provide emotional support.

At [our school], that "person" is actually a committee of concerned individuals who want to support those families in our midst who are going through a rough time: The [Committee Name]. Last year was the first year for this committee and we helped individuals find money for surgery (we are not a financial committee and we do not make financial donations but we learned that when pressed, we can help in SOME way), organized the meal brigade, provided services which coordinated the carpooling of children from families stricken with illness and mostly, acted to inform other concerned community members of what the heck was going on.

I'm not the most organized Chair of a committee and I am notoriously awful about having meetings so this committee requires very little in the way of actual committee-esque things. What is does require is a good heart and a willingness to put your hands and brains to work on behalf of your fellow [Elementary School] family members. There will be a very brief (trust me) meeting for all interested committee members on Thursday, October 11, directly after school in the commons. I will be looking for volunteers to put together a simple procedure manual for our committee and also looking for ideas on how to improve our information pipeline.

Questions, comments, willingness to take over as Chair? Call Barb Cooper.

So, I'm telling you about this because people have been coming up to me THANKING ME for doing this. It's a bit disconcerting.

First of all, it wasn't my brain child. Someone else thought of it last year after our school went through a difficult year last year in terms of families going through crisis. At least three families that I know of have a parent facing a life-threatening illness. One of them is my friend J.B., who is battling brain cancer. He is the father of three children who attend our school, and just a really, really good guy.

Anyway, I didn't even want to Chair this committee! I mean, in MY family, the go-to person is my SISTER! But no one else wanted to Chair it either, so I kind of, well, prayed about it and came up with this certainty that Chairing it was what I was meant to do. Sometimes you just know where you're called, right?


The thing is...there has never been a person more unsuited to Chairing a committee than I am. I'm disorganized and I hate meetings and my version of delegation is to gather ideas and then do it myself. In this case, I actually DO know my limitations and let's face it, I am pretty darn limited in the skill set that a person needs to do this.

But see, I have this need to DO SOMETHING. It's a selfish thing, really. I don't know how to describe it. I've felt so powerless this summer, watching people I love deal with the unfairness of life. Even a half-full kinda girl like me can see that there are times when life is just inherently unfair. There is no justice to some things. I mean, if life WERE just, then Osama Bin Laden wouldn't be running about all free and without brain cancer, right?

The hardest part for me is that there is nothing I can do --NOTHING --to ease the pain of these people I care about so much. All I can do is be there. To try to be a rock for them to cry on --without giving them the burden of my own sadness and feelings of inadequacy and need to do something. Sometimes, you know, nothing is something.

But then sometimes, something is um, well, something. I think my basic philosophy is that we minister to the pain of this world one tiny action at a time. By small things. I used to want to save the world, you know, through giant sweeping actions that would change the course of life as we know it. But honestly? I think it's the tiny seeds we sow that make the biggest difference, to our own lives and to the lives of others.Because wanting to do those big things sort of smacks of wanting it to be all about ME and MY GLORY and getting the CREDIT for doing BIG THINGS. The small things we do are about the person we do them for.

At least, this is my current thinking.

So, chairing this committee is hard and will no doubt be disastrous but I have to try. Because I can't sit in my house and bake one more damned banana bread for someone in crisis. I want to get my hands dirty doing whatever they need for me to do, even if it's doing laundry or driving carpool or some other minuscule thing.


MadMad said…
Wow! What a great idea. Like you said, what a great non-banana bread-baking way to really help, which is ultimately what the banana-bread-bakers like us want to do. Good for you - and I bet you'll be better at it than you think!)
DK said…
Well-said, my friend. So many people shy away from doing anything at all when someone is in crisis because they just don't know what to do and are afraid of making things "worse." But often, when you don't know what to say, "I don't really know what to say, but I'm sorry this is happening" is often the best thing you can say. And the small things, often the best things you can do for/give to anyone.
Ei said…
This is a wonderful thing, you know? My church has what they call a "care committee" They make food for new mommies and visit members in the hospital, stuff like that. But they found out I was moving this weekend...and showed up with moving boxes and strong men to lift things. They know how hard it is for a woman newly single to ask for help and actually get it. I cried for about three hours after they called me.

I'll be joining that committee this year.

And sometimes it really is the smallest things. A book, a cup of coffee...I once had someone pay for my lunch at Wendy's and it changed my life.

And what is it this year? Too much sadness...crazy hard year for so many.
hokgardner said…
Bless you for taking this on. My husband, who is wise beyond his years in many ways, said the worst thing you can say to someone in crisis is nothing at all. I've lived by that philosophy ever since. I can't say something or do something to take away somone's pain or grief, but I can do something to show I care, even if it's a hug or a loaf of bread.

If we all worked to do one little thing to help another, what a nicer world it would be.

Keep up the good work.
Anonymous said…
Not that we were in crisis, but when Mark had his heart attack in 2005, he was in the hospital for 8 days. He had 2 "procedures" - not surgeries but still, and I was pretty frantic running back and forth, bringing him edible food, trying to act normal for the kids, picking them up at school, dropping them off, calling people on Mark's behalf - frantic. The biggest "gift" I received was from a mom who offered to pick up Jessie at lunch, feed her lunch at her house and bring her back to school. That offer couldn't have been more appreciated if it had been a million dollars.

I applaud your efforts Mrs. Cooper. I'd love to do something like this at our school....but I wouldn't even know where to begin.
The little things we do definitely matter. There's a quote from Mother Teresa about this subject, but of course I can't remember it correctly. If you can't do great things, do small things with great love - something like that. Sounds more profound when it comes from her, of course.

It amazes me how many people don't realize how much help a delivered meal is to a family that is dealing with a new baby, or sickness, or whatever. And it doesn't have to be brain cancer, either. 2 parents down with the flu leaves the kids scrounging around and eating saltines and apples for 3 days. Just knowing your kids have eaten one decent meal while you were sick makes you feel better. Plus knowing that someone cared enough to do something. I think everyone cares, they just don't realize how easy it is to do something that would help. Anything that facilitates their being able to do something is a great idea - that's why people are so enthusiastic about the committee.
I sound like a rambling idiot in the previous comment because my kids were talking in my ear the entire time I was typing it.
Barb Matijevich said…
Dude, you sound like Mother Teresa yourself. You made me cry. Now shut up. (Just kidding! But you have GOT to stop being so hard on yourself because, well, I adore you. So there. Okay?)
Anonymous said…
I'm going to do this at my school. Thanks for the inspiration!