As far back as I can remember, once a month my parents and another couple from church hosted the Sunday meal for the homeless at our church. When everything was ready my sister and I would help each other push open the heavy door to let everyone in. We’d make sure the bread baskets stayed full and that there was enough cream and sugar for coffee, enough silverware.
When I was in elementary school, there was a shooting in my neighborhood. My parents took us to a candlelight vigil for the victims. My mom was interviewed and appeared on the local news later that night, saying that violence in our neighborhood would not stand, that the residents would band together even in the face of tragedy and help end such nonsensical acts.
Shortly after Jesse Jackson failed to receive the Democratic bid for President in 1988 because he lacked a sufficient number of delegates to be nominated, my parents took me to see him speak at a church on the south side of St. Louis. I was old enough to hear, if not to understand, about the importance of the election or of the speaker. I remember people being packed into every nook and cranny of the church – Reverend Jackson being escorted by security to and from his car – having to wait until he’d driven away before we were allowed to leave – the Dukakis campaign stickers and buttons that appeared in the narthex after the speech that my parents bought and wore. We spent the months after that stuffing and sealing envelopes for the Dukakis campaign in rooms full of folding chairs and tables – it may have been the site of my first paper cut.
I count myself lucky to have been brought up in a family that didn’t teach me to fear difference, to hide in the face of hatred and violence, to stay at home and sit idly by while others suffer. The most important thing I’ve learned about these qualities is not to take them for granted – it’s a choice to remain involved, a muscle that you must constantly exercise in a culture that seems to prefer that you do nothing but live your life without giving a thought to others.
My sister just learned that she’ll be shipping out to the Phillipines at the end of March to help with environmental education there. My parents’ response? “I guess if there’s a war in China, there will be troops stationed in the Phillipines and that will be good.”
Straight from the mouths of the people who intentionally made us active global community members, who preach the dangers of living fearfully every day.
Having never had a child of my own, I can’t honestly say that I understand what it must be like to come to terms with your child leaving for two years to follow a sense of duty to others. I imagine it’s terrifying, that you’d think about it all the time and pray every day for their well being and safe return. But wouldn’t you do that anyway?
I cannot possibly express enough my pride in my sister’s selfless choice, and her determination through seemingly endless bureaucratic (and other) setbacks. I’m absolutely positive that my parents are as proud of her as I am – I just wish they’d find a way to express it.