Do something for somebody every day for which you do not get paid. — Albert Schweitzer
It was incredibly humbling. I’ve made time for many things and many people, but I had overlooked a friend who really mattered to me. What could I say other than I was sorry that I hadn’t done better?
You don’t even have to look up the definition of humbling to know it when you feel it. But I can tell you that the portion that matches how I felt was “having a feeling of insignificance.” Humble is from the Latin word “humilis,” which means lowly. I felt very lowly when I realized I had lost touch with my friend who had difficulties in her life.
People matter, relationships matter, and if we can slow down long enough to let them know they matter, we will rarely have to wear the heavy cloak of humilis that I wear today.
Not having a regular job, I have found myself doing a lot of volunteer work through the years. Yet as I read Schweitzer’s quote, I don’t equate it to mean we should volunteer more necessarily.
Doing something for someone for which I am not getting paid resonates with me as spending time with people who aren’t a requirement. After all, if we volunteer for an organization, we get “paid” in some type of accolade, don’t we?
Spending time with people we care about just to bring joy into at least one life seems to be where I find Schweitzer’s words leading me:
“Friends, family, and strangers need us, and the question is, ‘Will we be too busy to be present for them?”
Leaving a business recently, I climbed into my car and sat for a few minutes and then prepared to leave, looking to see if anyone was walking behind my vehicle. There she was, the woman who had been on the sidewalk when I bounded out of the building moments earlier. She was just reaching her car, walking ever so slowly, but walking on her own.
I thought about how she must have been like I was not so many years ago, and I considered that I might find myself moving as slowly as she in several years. It’s so easy to find time for people who are moving at our pace, I think, but what about those who have slowed down? I just watched her and hoped that someone was making time to listen to her, to spend time with her, to let her know she mattered.
I wonder what the girls on the basketball team I photographed recently would think to consider that the slow, frail woman might have once been racing down the court, sneaking in for a steal. Maybe that would be as difficult for them to imagine as it would be to picture me loping along the court, coming to a screeching halt at mid-court.
That’s how it was when I began playing, after all. Maybe the easiest way to picture either of these scenarios is to see the picture of the ballerina’s shadow or that of the young soldier on a wall reflecting the aged woman or man who is standing slumped before it. They see themselves as that young, vibrant person all these years later, not picturing themselves as the seniors they are age-wise.
Many senior citizens look at the youth of today with disdain — tattoos and purple hair so different from the occasional “Mom” or anchor tattoos on men in their day, and loud music that causes picture frames to fall over — while many younger folks view seniors as people who drive too slowly, speak too loudly, or complain too frequently.
It is with some frustration that many at 75 shake their heads and say, “Kids today,” forgetting how much like you they might have been so many years before, and with little patience younger folks find themselves wanting to get away from that old geezer that just doesn’t understand.
Both groups, though, have the opportunity to show the other how much they matter, and it starts today for each of you. At 24, my friend “J” spends time with her grandparents, laughing and living, not bothered by the frustrations they might present to her fast-paced life. How I relish watching everything they do together and hope that others will emulate her actions.
You who are 70 or 80 or 90, you are not without responsibility to make the first move. Send a note, pick up the phone, and reach out to the younger generation. You can text or email, which makes the connection without intruding. You who are 15 or 20 or 30, treat your grandparent to a cup of coffee or tea, meeting them where they are in what works for communication with that age group.
If you have no grandparent or parent, if you have no child or grandchild, there are others waiting and in need of your company and your caring. Do you have a business that could involve people of different ages? Be creative and reach out beyond your own comfort zone. After all, it’s been said that life begins just beyond our comfort zone, and that just might be where you discover a freedom you’ve never known.
Reaching out to someone older or younger might not be nearly as uncomfortable as reaching out to someone your own age. Sometimes it is someone in your very own peer group who is in need of a friendly face, a note in the mail, or a hug without words.
What can you do today for which you will not get paid in money or praise? Get up, stand up, be present and let someone else know their life matters to you. Never underestimate the power of relationship, never overestimate the importance of your busy life.