Serving Something Greater than the Self

This past weekend our family got a kind some reinforced instruction on how the smallest acts of generosity can sometimes have surprising, even life-changing impacts on others, and both lessons came thanks to the Boy Scouts of America:

Danny, with 52 merit badges on his sash and a scouting resume that truly was exceptional, even for an Eagle, began his prepared remarks by saying, “I didn’t know he would be here today, but that just makes this speech all the better, because I am going to begin by telling you that one of the biggest reasons I stand before you tonight as an Eagle is because of Buster.”

On the last night of camp, Buster and Mick did a great Blues Brothers routine with black suits and fedoras and when it was over, Buster gave me his sunglasses. It sounds silly, but that meant so much to me; it meant that someone I really admired thought I totally belonged where he was. I’ve brought those cheap sunglasses back to camp with me, every year since; they’ve reminded me of who and what I wanted to become—the guy who makes everyone else feel welcome and at ease, and is kind to the kids who hang back.

And, then, two days later, at the wake of an assistant scoutmaster:

. . .the rooms were overflowing with scoutmasters and their wives, and with the scouts who kept coming, and coming; young men who had long-since left behind their sashes and medals and the external trappings of the Boy Scouts, but who carried within them the values they had learned and internalized though the influence of this man, who would be surprised to hear that his small jokes and warm demeanor had modeled another side of manhood for so many. Our elder son was not the only scout to travel from out-of-state—in torrential rains—to pay his respects for an hour or so, and to tell a grieving wife and son, “Yes, he mattered. His life mattered to me.”

St. Terese of Lisieux knew it — many great philosophers have known it — but it is a lesson we must learn over and over again: great acts of heroism and art are great, and they are meaningful contributions to the world. But it is the small stuff, the tiny acts of common kindness and consolation, that make the days bearable, and keep our fractured humanity stable through these underpinnings of grace – these sparkles from the wheel.

William Carlos Williams wrote:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

I say, so much depends upon a man willing to flip 400 pancakes, and a teen willing to hand off a pair of sunglasses to a kid who wants to belong, and I ponder it all — and the meaning of the plethora of vulgar reality shows and “famous for being famous” cult of celebrity our culture supports — over at First Things

Homeless man finds envelope with $1400;
turns it in to the police because he knows what it is “to go without. It could be someone’s rent money…”

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