I fought tears most of the way home from Safeway this afternoon, but soon the emotion overwhelmed me and bitter tears poured down my face. Neal asked me what was wrong, and it took me some time to compose myself. What was wrong? What was at the core of this despair?
I hadn’t noticed the signs or balloons on our way to the store. It wasn’t until we were leaving the parking lot that I noticed the makeshift memorial where we usually saw an older man sitting on an upturned bucket. The bucket was there, but the man was not. In his place stood a sign that read, “His name was James.” Bouquets of flowers were taped to the stop sign. I blurted out, “Oh, that man died.” That man died. James. I didn’t know him. In fact, if truth be told, I never bothered thinking about him more than the moment we drove by him as we left Safeway each week.
I do remember some specific moments such as the time his plumbers crack was showing. We laughed about it. I remember a couple times I was alone and I wondered if I had any granola bars or bottled water to give him. I never stopped. I certainly never stopped to ask his name or learn his story. I would drive on by and he would slip from my memory, but not today. Not today! Today I am consumed with the fact that I never once wondered about him other than why he was begging. Today I am wondering how I have become so judgmental and uncaring. Am I not an accident or debilitating illness away from needing a helping hand? What happened to the me that used to care so much about people that my heart broke when I saw someone begging by the side of the road?
And there’s my answer. My heart broke. My heart broke, and instead of allowing it to mend whole and fragile, I forced it to harden. Luckily, I’m not so bad that I’m hard hearted, but I certainly am not the me that used to volunteer at Camp Easter Seal or for the nursing home. I think I became so tired of being hurt and feeling pain, I simply stopped putting myself in situations that would break my heart.
When I was explaining all this to Neal, I was reminded of Julie’s article in the T-Bird Splat (my school newsletter). She wrote about a revelation she had during a 4Ps presentation. She became painfully aware that this boy sat through her class the previous year, and she never really knew the struggles he was facing on a daily basis. Her advice to us is that “kids won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” It sounds so cliché, but the truth of her words slapped me in the face.
Passion has been missing in my life for quite some time. I’ve felt moments of depression, and I really couldn’t figure out why. I’m more fit and healthy than I have been since college. I teach at a great school and have incredible friends. I get to scrapbook during my free time and share my love of the art with others by leading workshops. I’m married to my best friend and have an amazing marriage! So, why do I feel empty?
I think James gave me my answer today. I have not been feeding my soul for a very long time. I allowed a wall to keep me from being hurt, but it caused more damage than I could have imagined.
I’m a scapbooker and an English teacher. I love stories! Not simply my own stories, but the stories of those around me. I want to know what makes people tick, and how someone like James ended up on the corner of the Safeway parking lot.
I need to feed my soul by helping others. For years, I have used the excuse that I’m a teacher; that’s my volunteer time, but I know I can do better than that. Plus, if that is going to count as volunteer time, then I better do far more for my students than I have been over the past couple of years! Now, I will say that the closest I have come in a long time to feeling like I was making a difference was this time last year. It was right after the Close To My Heart convention in Florida. Jeanette Lynton gave a moving speech as she introduced William and Kathleen Magee, the co-founders of Operation Smile. She explained that she was so touched by the work that Operation Smile is doing for children around the world that OS is becoming CTMH’s exclusive charity. Shortly after convention, we were able to offer the From Me To You card kits for a $10 donation to Operation Smile; I was able to raise over $130! I was only $110 away from providing an operation for a child. It only costs $240, takes 45 minutes, and changes their lives forever! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to earn the other $110, but I’m done focusing on my failings in the past and am going to look to the future.
So, what is my why? I want to bring smiles to the faces of those I meet and allow their joy to make me smile! As a teacher, I will do this by showing my students that I truly care. I want to know their stories and help them succeed in the classroom and beyond. As a friend, I will do this by staying in better contact with the people I love. I make tons of cards as a scrapbooker…I’m going to start sending them! As a wife, I will remind Neal daily of the difference he makes in my life. He is my everything, and I am not going to let him forget it. As a CTMH consultant, I will teach workshops and help my customers gain confidence in creating beautiful art to chronicle their memories. I will work to raise money for Operation Smile so that I can put a smile on the face of a child who may have only known pain and misery. I will live my life with passion, because I am beyond blessed!
I will remember that his name was James, and I will smile!